It was a revolution in politics, no doubt about it. It's a brutal fact, and something that is repeated in political circles from time to time, but if there had been television in the 1930s, it was highly unlikely that the country would have elected a President in a wheelchair. Of course we would have missed out on one of the best Presidents in our history in my opinion.
The 1960 Presidential debates brought image and appearance into political campaigns, and would be mastered quite effectively later by Reagan, who put his acting skills to good use during the campaign in 1980.
Personally, I find the debates to be unnecessary. I do not believe they influence many to change who they vote for, nor do I believe they influence too many people that are undecided; however, I do see their usefulness in some aspects.
Post #2 addresses your topic head on. It is informative and insightful, a great post.
I think it is fair to say that the power the media would have on politics was cemented that evening. Prior to television, it was radio that informed Americans on the political candidates. Before that it was either the newspapers, which were owned by powerful men who usually supported 'their' position,or the candidate 'train stop' which at best resulted in limited exposure. The 1960 televised Presidential debate shifted the dynamics of 'the name of a political candidate' to that of 'who is that political candidate?, what does he look like?, and what does he stand for'? It was the televised debate in 1960 whether intentionally or not, that reshaped the political landscape in the United States. The 1960 televised presidential debate added a dimension to American politics that had been previsously unattainable. Television gave the American people the 'look' of politics, and since 1960 those who embarked on a life of public service threw their hat into the lions den known as 'the media'. In the stroke of a moment the presidential candidates became liken to an organism under a microscope. The 1960 televised debate has forever changed the landscape of American politics, the only question left to ask is whether it was for better or worse?
A huge impact upon the presidental campaigns was made when Richard M. Nixon and John F. Kennedy met for the first televised presidental debate on September 26, 1960. The addition of the visual element literally and physically changed the faces of presidential campaigns.
While Nixon wore a grey suit that faded into the backdrop of black and white TV, Kennedy wore a navy suit. He allowed makeup to be applied to his face, enhancing his tan and youthful appearance. On the other hand, Nixon who had recently been ill had a pallor about him, and his beard gave a shadow to his face on camera. He perspired above his upper lip, a condition which made him appear nervous although he was very competent in answering the questions posed to him.
It is interesting that the majority of radio listeners surveyed felt that Nixon, who was extremely knowledgeable, especially about foreign affairs, had won the debate. However, among the 70 million who had watched the televised debate a large margin responded the other way. Before the TV debate, Nixon had been around 11 points ahead of Kennedy in the presidential run.
On election day John F. Kennedy won by a very small margin. In a survey after the election, it was reported the majority of women in the U.S. had voted for Kennedy. Many stated that they were impressed at Kennedy's overall appearance (looks and confidence) when they saw him on television.
While only 6% of people in another survey stated that they were influenced by the presidental debate, one can only wonder how Nixon lost a strong lead in only two months.