Reflections on Television’s Role in American Presidential Elections

By Lawrence K. Grossman

A paper by Lawrence K. Grossman, Visiting Stanton Lecturer, 1987-1988, explores why, despite a high volume of campaign coverage, voter turnout for the 1988 election was at its lowest point since 1924. Grossman argues that the problem is partly television, which distorts the political process through its “conventional mainstream bias,” its role as a medium of entertainment and advertising, and its emphasis on personality, visual image and emotion rather than on ideas, issues and reason. Grossman also provides recommendations to help fix these problems: 1. More diversified television, reaching beyond the established networks to provide more information to more people. 2. Establish a new primary system ending with one day of primary voting in June. 3. Encourage the networks to run long, live interviews with the presidential candidates on their regularly scheduled evening newscasts. 4. Suspend the equal time rule. 5. Every candidate must participate in a certain number of televised debates, or get no federal campaign funds. 6. Candidates must accept responsibility personally and publicly for attack commercials, or receive no federal campaign funds.

Download the paper (PDF).