In case you haven’t heard, 2020 is a presidential election year! It’s not hard to miss, but Election Day is less than a month away, and we will soon find out which candidate will take their place in the Oval Office for the next four years. Will current President Donald Trump serve another term or will former Vice President Joe Biden take his place?
The time leading up to an actual election can sometimes be even more important than the actual election day. Even though Election Day reveals the answer as to who wins the race, there really would be no race without the campaigning period. Trump filed his campaign for reelection in 2020 with the Federal Election Commission on the day of his inauguration, Jan. 20, 2017, and began his campaign only a few weeks later. Biden’s campaign for the 2020 Presidential Election began over two years after Trump’s, on April 25, 2019, when he announced his candidacy for president.
Political campaigns involve a wide variety of activities, including giving speeches, canvassing and participating in debates with other candidates, and the goal is to spread the candidate’s platform to the voting public and influence them to vote in his/her favor. One powerful, yet sometimes underappreciated, element of campaigning is the wide variety of art that is created in the form of buttons and posters.
Historically, art has always played a role in the campaigning efforts of many presidential elections. As TIME reports, buttons and pins have been a part of elections since America’s very first Presidential Inauguration of George Washington. TIME also says that the first pins to include an image of the president were during Abraham Lincoln’s presidential campaign prior to his election in 1861. However, 1896 was the first time that mass-produced and collectible buttons were around, for the William McKinley and William Jennings Bryan presidential race.
If we take a stroll through history, it’s not difficult to see some of the many pinnacle and powerful pieces of campaign art that have graced the eyes of the American democracy through the years. So, let’s take a look!
- Abraham Lincoln Campaign Button – 1860
This button, as mentioned before, was the first campaign button to include a photo of the presidential candidate on it. It is of simple design, looking like a mini circle picture frame with Abraham Lincoln’s name etched around the gold border. His black and white portrait fills the frame in the middle. It may not be the most attractive piece of campaign art, but it certainly set the stage for many pieces to come!
- Dwight D. Eisenhower “I Like Ike” Campaign Button – circa 1952
This campaign button for Dwight D. Eisenhower, nicknamed “Ike”, was actually used to persuade Eisenhower to run for presidency, as he was a very well-liked general in the U.S. Army and the American public was getting tired of President Harry S. Truman’s time in office, as a TIME article states. This is a great example of how a simple, catchy slogan can rally people for a cause. The simple design of the red, white and blue stripes, along with the straightforward slogan perfectly matched with Eisenhower’s initial refusal to publicly share his political views while in the Army, as well as people’s discomfort with sharing their views. They simply just liked Ike! The button convinced Eisenhower to run, and he beat out Adlai Stevenson in the 1952 presidential election.
- Jimmy Carter Campaign Poster – 1976
In this iconic campaign poster from Jimmy Carter’s run in 1976, where he beat out Gerald Ford for the presidency, we see Carter depicted as Jesus Christ, playing off of their shared initials. Carter’s head is illuminated from behind by a heavenly light, and the “J.C. Can Save America!” slogan paints him as America’s savior, just as Jesus is the savior of Christians. Carter’s faith played a large role in his campaign, as well as his time in office. As an article from America Magazine says, he “won the 1976 election as a Jesus-loving Democrat” and often “talked about his ‘personal relationship with God.’” It only makes sense that his political campaign poster related to his strong faith.
- Barack Obama “Hope” Campaign Poster – 2008
Quite possibly the first campaign poster to ever go viral, this poster of Barack Obama was created by street artist Shepard Fairey. This poster quickly became a popular image during the time of Obama’s campaign against John McCain in 2008. The art depicts Obama in the color scheme of America’s flag, with the word “hope” at the bottom. In an interview with HuffPost, Fairey said about his poster that “it became very clear quickly that the demand for an image like that had not been supplied, and that the Obama supporters were very hungry for it and also very motivated to spread it.” Many Americans were not happy with the George W. Bush presidency and could not wait to have him out of office, so this poster helped provide hope for which the Obama supporters were looking. Obama won the presidential election over McCain in 2008.
- Donald J. Trump Campaign Poster – 2016
Our current president, Donald Trump, beat out Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, and much of his campaign revolved around the slogan “Make America Great Again.” During this campaign, the slogan was printed on t-shirts, hats, posters, buttons, stickers and so many more items. Trump supporters can still find these items today, as we are now in his second campaign run for reelection in 2020. To follow the theme of his 2016 campaign, Trump’s new slogan for 2020 is “Keep America Great.” Much of Trump’s campaigning does not revolve around artwork, as we see most of his posters are very simplistic and really only feature America’s colors, Trump’s name and his famous slogan. Much of his campaigning is focused on his speeches and the rallies that he holds, more so than the artwork that is created.
As we can see, presidential campaigning includes a wide variety of artistic approaches in order to promote certain candidates, and much of this artwork not only shows the values of the candidates, but also shows the views of their supporters. Voters can stick these posters and signs in their lawns and wear their buttons with pride, knowing that they can use pieces of art to show support to whoever they believe should be the next leader of our country.