1956 Eisenhower VS. Stevenson

"The Man from Libertyville: High Cost of Living"


Museum of the Moving Image
The Living Room Candidate
"The Man from Libertyville: High Cost of Living," Stevenson, 1956

MALE NARRATOR: The Democratic National Committee presents another visit with The Man from Libertyville! Here at the end of this lane, on a farm about four miles from Libertyville, lives Adlai E. Stevenson of Illinois.

But before we look for the Governor, let's see the nearby town of Libertyville itself. Here is the main street, the shops, and the church. Here, in markets like this, is where Nancy Stevenson, the Governor's daughter-in-law, does the family shopping. She drives in several times a week. And because Libertyville is like many other American communities, and because Nancy Stevenson is like so many other young wives, she's learned quite a bit about how much groceries and the like cost these days. After shopping, she drives home four miles to Governor Stevenson's farm, where she and Adlai Jr. are staying until he returns to law school. The Stevensons are returning now from a shopping trip in Libertyville. The Governor is helping with the groceries.

STEVENSON: That's my daughter-in-law Nancy and my oldest son, Adlai Jr. He's a student at law school. I think they--they're staying with me during the vacation--I think they live pretty well, but they're learning a lot about something that worries a lot of people in this country, and that, of course, is the high cost of living.

In spite of the Eisenhower promise, the cost of living today is higher than it's ever been before in the history of our country. And this is a serious matter for young people, like my son Adlai and his bride Nancy. I was reminded, talking to them the other day about this, of the young husband who said every time he was about to make both ends meet, his wife moved the ends. Well, sometimes they have to.

And it isn't only young people that feel the pinch. It's also our older citizens: people on pensions, people on fixed incomes. For example, I believe almost one half of all of our older citizens don't have a sufficient income for a really decent standard of living. You can hardly blame these people for asking: Where is this golden prosperity that the Republicans talk so much about?

And there's another inequity. It makes it hard for millions of hardworking, thrifty, conscientious American citizens to make both ends meet. Eisenhower said that there would be tax relief, and there has been--to some degree. But it was for the benefit of the well-to-do and the big corporations. The Republicans gave the lion's share of it to them. Out of every dollar of tax cut savings, 91 cents went to the higher-income families and to the big corporations. And for the rest of Americans, 80% of all American families got only nine cents out of each tax cut dollar.

Now for older people, for you people who live on pensions, on fixed incomes, for the younger people just getting started, this is a serious matter. But I think it can be corrected. For example: when it's time to cut taxes, I think the cutting should start among the lower-income families, among those people who have to spend the largest portion of their income on the bare necessities of life. For no prosperity can really be true prosperity unless it is shared by all. And this I believe: that enlightened, vigorous, Democratic leadership can lead us over the threshold to the new America in which our abundance is used to enrich the lives of all of us.

Oh, Nancy!

NANCY: (Laughs) You're a big help!

STEVENSON: Oh, I forgot to deliver the groceries and made a speech instead!

MALE NARRATOR: Cast your vote on November 6th for the new America: for Adlai Stevenson for President, and Estes Kefauver for Vice President. Vote Democratic! The party for you, not just the few.


"The Man from Libertyville: High Cost of Living," Democratic National Committee, 1956

Maker: Charles Guggenheim

From Museum of the Moving Image, The Living Room Candidate: Presidential Campaign Commercials 1952-2012.
www.livingroomcandidate.org/commercials/1956/the-man-from-libertyville-high-cost-of-living (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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