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The Debates: Factors That Play Into Viewers’ Impressions

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

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In 1990, the multinational corporation Canon Inc. had one of its most successful advertising campaign to date, featuring former professional tennis player Andre Agassi uttering the tagline, “Image is Everything.” This candid phrase defined, with great simplicity, the magic of the camera and its ability to alter and shape perception, even in presidential debates.

Image proved extremely important in 1960 when GOP Vice President Richard Nixon and Massachusetts Democrat Sen. John F. Kennedy dueled in the first-ever televised presidential debate. It was a break-through TV moment because the American people had never seen presidential candidates face off. While both candidates were equally matched in delivering their message, Nixon, who was ahead in the polls, failed to deliver a strong image on camera. … Kennedy, on the other hand, spent hours practicing his message as well as his image. He knew exactly where to look, how to sit and when to smile. …

It’s not just preparation that affects a candidate’s image during the debates, however. Networks play a subtle and often invisible role.

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