With women's issues all over election ads this year, I thought it might be interesting to look at how campaigns courted female voters during a kinder, gentler television era. For the most part, women in mid-20th century political ads were there to reassure other women voters about the moral character of a candidate or how he would protect things like their children's safety and their husband's paycheck. Women were rarely seen as having separate concerns of their own.
Sometimes, this meant portraying candidates in almost romantic terms—the kind of guy a woman could depend on. The kind of guy who would protect and take care of them. Implicitly or explicitly, many ads starring women made choosing a political candidate seem like choosinglike choosing a romantic partner. Here's a jazzy little example from 1952:
As you can see, the trope still exists, but—alas—with less catchy musical numbers. The top ad, a sort of Lena Dunham love letter to Barack Obama, comes from 2012 and the second, a parody of the reailty TV show "Say Yes to the Dress" in support of Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott, comes from 2014.
The most visible role for women in early campaign commercials was as "master of the domestic realm,"notes Autostaddle—the housewife whose "ability to understand politics at a global scale must involve thinking about" how it affects her household and neighbors.
The housewife in these ads "is the kind of woman who worries about taxes because her husband tells her money is tight, not because she's invested in smart investments" or believes in smaller government. The housewife appears in these ads as someone female voters can relate to "woman to woman" about the big, complicated issues facing the country. Here are a few examples from 60 years ago, when Dwight D. Eisenhower was trying to win the 1956 election against Democratic challenger Adlai Stevenson:
These days, campaign ads targeting women are much less likely to say why ladies should vote for a certain candidate than to warn why they shouldn't vote for the other guy; this, of course, is in keeping with a general shift toward more negative campaign ads over the past 60s years. Old ads did sometimes warn women away from the other candidate, but the tone was dramatically different than in attack ads today, as evidenced by the two examples below:
[Due to some technical difficulties with the video clips, this piece was published briefly, taken offline and revamped, and then published again.]