HDTV and Presidential Campaigns

Megan McArdle (whose lack of post titles is very unhelpful in RSS readers) wonders what impact HDTV will have on the 2008 presidential race.

There has been talk about this problem for a while among television personalities and . . . er . . . adult entertainers. Today, though, it suddenly occurred to me that this might have an impact on the 2008 election. Just as the introduction of television famously altered voter perceptions of the candidates in the 1960 election (those who listened to the debate thought that Nixon had won, but those who saw it on television overwhelmingly favoured the more telegenic Kennedy), HDTV could skew who we nominate and/or elect.

For example, though I’ve never met him, my understanding from those who have is that McCain’s image of vitality is very carefully projected, and that when you actually meet him up close, he looks pretty frail. Will that come out on HDTV? How about Hilary? HDTV is least kind to older women; I’d bet it puts at least ten years on her. I suspect that Obama is the only candidate who will actually look good on HDTV; he’s younger, and even light black skin ages better than caucasian. I’m tempted to side with Drezner against Cowen solely on the distribution of HDTVs in the country.

Roughly 1 in 6 households have at least one HDTV set. As prices continue to plummet (you can get a 50-inch plasma at Costco for less than $1500 and a 42-inch for under $1000) that number will likely increase.

Still, while I don’t deny that it will have an impact–and I agree, further doom John McCain’s already-doomed candidacy–I simply can’t imagine that the upshot will be the election of Barack Obama. He’s a nice-enough looking guy (in the sense that politics is show business for ugly people) and he’s smart and an excellent speaker. But he has no natural constituency and there is no obvious rationale for electing him other than that he’s “fresh.”

Indeed, the article that Drezner cites as evidence of Obama’s fine thinking on foreign policy matters offers nothing but evidence of Obama’s ability to charm people. That’s a great asset in a politician, no doubt, but not likely enough to get him elected as a wartime president.

Cowen’s assessment of the field strikes me as more plausible: Hillary will got nominated but can’t win. McCain is too old, and Giuliani is the logical alternative, especially since the Republican base isn’t ready for a Mormon. Cowen’s commenters mostly disagree, especially the spammers from the Ron Paul campaign.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

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  2. Anderson says:

    If the 2008 election really is to be affected significantly by how a candidate looks on HDTV, we might as well hang up the Republic and designate the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences to select the President. Maybe they could squeeze it in between Best Director and Best Picture.

    Jayzus.

  3. Mark says:

    we might as well hang up the Republic and designate the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences to select the President.

    President Clooney – with Leonardo DeCaprio waiting in the wings. sigh.

  4. Triumph says:

    He’s a nice-enough looking guy (in the sense that politics is show business for ugly people) and he’s smart and an excellent speaker.

    You might want to mention that he’s “clean” as well.

  5. “…especially since the Republican base isn’t ready for a Mormon.”

    You sound relieved.

    You also sound like you don’t think Romney’s considerable telegenicity is going to save his campaign, notwithstanding HDTV.

  6. James Joyner says:

    You sound relieved.

    How does one sound relieved in a written summary of a blog post?

    You also sound like you don’t think Romney’s considerable telegenicity is going to save his campaign, notwithstanding HDTV.

    I think being unattractive–and especially haggard looking–is more a negative than being attractive is a positive.

  7. Tano says:

    If a woman in her fifties looks bad on HDTV, how would a drag queen in his sixties look?

  8. Anderson says:

    If a woman in her fifties looks bad on HDTV, how would a drag queen in his sixties look?

    Is that how old Giuliani is?

  9. Andy says:

    Come on guys, Biden was just quoting Outkast.

    So fresh and so clean clean!

    Gotta connect with the youth vote.

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