1956 Eisenhower VS. Stevenson



Museum of the Moving Image
The Living Room Candidate
"Football/Peace," Eisenhower, 1956

CROWD: Go! Go! Go!

(Cheering and Music)

MALE NARRATOR #1: It's football time! And every Saturday afternoon in stadiums all over the country, you'll see young men like this one, watching the games and enjoying themselves.

(Minor music, explosions)

But four years ago, it was a different story. Four years ago, many of our young men were on Heartbreak Ridge in Korea. And that was no game: A vicious, grinding war that went on and on, as if forever.

Of course, today it's all over and the young men are trying to forget. But for one day this year, they'll remember. And that one day is Election Day, November 6th, when not only these young men, but Americans of all ages will be thinking long and hard about how to vote for the surest road to peace during the next four years. What are some of their thoughts?

COLLEGE STUDENT: I'm engaged this time, and I'm planning to get married, and I don't want to look forward to military service in war. I want my children to grow up in a country that's in peace. I think that Ike is the man who can do this for us.

MOTHER #1: I will vote for President Eisenhower because I am a mother of three children. And I feel, with President Eisenhower in command of our country, I can raise my children with great security.

FATHER: I'm going to vote for Ike because of his outstanding record in the past four years, and because I believe, through a Republican administration, we will have peace and prosperity for my children to grow up in for at least the next 20 years.

VETERAN: I served four and a half years in the United States Army Air Forces, and am a great admirer of President Eisenhower in what he did during the war in leading us to victory and what he is now doing to lead us to peace and to hold the peace in this world.

MOTHER #2: I have an 18-year-old son, and I am so grateful to Eisenhower for giving him an uninterrupted education. So many of the boys--his friends--were sent to Korea in a war that had no successful conclusion.

MALE NARRATOR #1: All over the country, young men and their parents are asking: Can we gamble when the stakes are so high? Can we dismiss the man who has kept us at peace, and take a chance on a man untried and inexperienced in international negotiations and world problems? What do you say? Are you willing to bet everything you love and hold dear that Stevenson can also keep us out of war? Are you that sure of it?

Remember: this peace we've grown so used to didn't come to us as a gift. Four years ago, you did something about it. You registered and you voted Ike Eisenhower into office. Now, let's keep him there. Ask yourself: is this the time to change, with war simmering all around the world? During the past four years, President Eisenhower has kept this black headline off the front pages of our newspapers.


MALE NARRATOR #1: Because he knows firsthand the terror and misery of war. As he has said:

EISENHOWER: We witness today in the power of nuclear weapons a new and deadly dimension to the ancient horror of war. Humanity has now achieved, for the first time in its history, the power to end its history. This truth must guide our every deed. It makes world disarmament a necessity of world life. For I repeat again this simple declaration: the only way to win World War III is to prevent it.

MALE NARRATOR #2: The National Citizens for Eisenhower-Nixon have presented this message to all thinking voters, regardless of party affiliation.


"Football/Peace," Citizens for Eisenhower, 1956

Video courtesy of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library.

From Museum of the Moving Image, The Living Room Candidate: Presidential Campaign Commercials 1952-2012.
www.livingroomcandidate.org/commercials/1956/footballpeace (accessed June 22, 2024).


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1956 Eisenhower Stevenson Results

For President Eisenhower, the only true emergency of his first term was the heart attack he suffered in September 1955. After his doctor pronounced him fully recovered in February 1956, Eisenhower announced his decision to run for re-election. The Democrats set up a replay of the 1952 contest by nominating Adlai Stevenson. The result was an even greater Republican landslide. Eisenhower was a popular incumbent president who had ended the Korean War. Two world crises helped cement his lead in the final days of the campaign: the Soviet Union invaded Hungary, and Britain, France, and Israel attacked Egypt in an effort to take over the Suez Canal. Eisenhower kept the United States out of both conflicts. As is traditional during a military crisis, American voters rallied behind their president. The events also undermined two of Stevenson’s key positions: the suspension of hydrogen-bomb testing and the elimination of the military draft.

Dwight D. Eisenhower for president
Richard Nixon for vice president

"Peace, Prosperity, and Progress"

Although Eisenhower was the incumbent president, his 1956 ads continued to portray him as an ordinary American. Capitalizing on his enormous popularity, they emphasized Ike’s personality even more than his accomplishments.

To counter Stevenson’s claim that the Democratic party was the party of the average American and the Republican "the party of the few," Eisenhower’s ads offered the testimony of ordinary citizens, whether in the dramatized ad "Taxi Driver and Dog" or the documentary-style "Women Voters." The latter ad was also an acknowledgment that women were crucial to Eisenhower’s 1952 landslide, supporting him by a greater margin than men.

The Eisenhower ads closed with an appeal to "all thinking voters" because a Republican victory was only possible with the support of Democrats and independents, who outnumbered Republicans in the general population. Conversely, Stevenson’s ads urged voters to uphold party loyalty, a common plea by Democratic candidates trailing in the polls.

Adlai Stevenson for president
Estes Kefauver for vice president

"Vote Democratic, the Party for You, and Not Just a Few"

In 1956, Adlai Stevenson was still publicly railing against the expanding role of television in politics. Yet Stevenson knew that he couldn’t compete without television, and the Democratic National Committee tried to hire one of the leading Madison Avenue agencies to handle the campaign. The account was turned down by all of the large firms, who feared offending their big-business Republican clients, and was finally accepted by Norman, Craig and Kummel, an agency with little political experience that ranked 25th in billings.

The main innovation in the commercials of the 1956 campaign was the five-minute spot. Stevenson appeared in a series of such spots, titled "The Man From Libertyville," which were filmed at his home in Libertyville, Illinois. The informal and folksy ads were designed to combat Stevenson’s image as an aloof "egghead." In an attempt to portray the divorced Stevenson as a family man, some of the ads featured his son and daughter-in-law. Meanwhile, the Eisenhower campaign made frequent use of the president's Mamie and large extended family. Emanating from America’s heartland, Stevenson's Libertyville spots were designed to re-establish the Democratic party as the true voice of the American people.

The five-minute spot (actually four minutes and twenty seconds) resulted from cooperation between the networks and the candidates. Hoping to avoid the pre-emption of programs by half-hour speeches, the networks agreed to trim their shows to accommodate five-minute ads. To the candidates’ advantage, the spots were less expensive than half-hour broadcasts, and, as they could be sandwiched between popular programs, were likely to reach more viewers.

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