common ground

Domestic Views on International Affairs

Program 0213 March 26, 2002

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(This text has been professionally transcribed, however, for timely distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.)



(This text has been professionally transcribed. However for timely

distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.)


president ronald reagan: [with the sound of a street protest in the background] It was a dark day for America. Held in contempt by foreign nations; ridiculed in Iran.

KRISTIN MCHUGH: This week on Common Ground, international affairs as a campaign tool. Plus, measuring public opinion.

ANDREW KOHUT: You know, when 92 percent say, “We need more war even if Osama bin Laden is caught” [laughs]… pretty strong endorsement of the use of force.

KEITH PORTER: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events. It’s produced by the Stanley Foundation. I’m Keith Porter.

MCHUGH: And I’m Kristin McHugh. The next presidential election may seem like a long ways off but potential candidates are already jockeying for position. And already, political analysts are tracking what one network calls the “invisible primary.”

PORTER: Before we know it the campaign will become visible, as TV ads begin airing. In recent years international affairs haven’t played much of a role in presidential elections, but Common Ground’s Cliff Brockman tells us that hasn’t always been the case.

PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE RICHARD NIXON: [with the sound of drumbeats in the background] Never has so much military, economic, and diplomatic power been used so ineffectively as in Vietnam.

CLIFF BROCKMAN: Foreign affairs like war have often been the focus of presidential political campaign ads. Like this 1968 spot for Richard Nixon.

PRESIDENT NIXON: [with the sound of drumbeats in the background] If after all of this time, and all of this sacrifice, and all of this support, there is still no end in sight, then I say the time is come for the American people to turn to new leadership not tied to the policies and mistakes of the past.

BROCKMAN: Four years later Democrat George McGovern had a war ad of his own.

[with the sound of a jet aircraft in the background]

BROCKMAN: His TV ad shows fighter jets roaring overhead, followed by an announcer’s voice with one simple line:

ANNOUNCER: [The announcer is a young girl] Does the President know that planes bomb children?

BROCKMAN: Even though the United States is at war again, this time with terrorism, President Bush may or may not be able to use it to his advantage in the next election.

EDWARD HOROWITZ: I could imagine George W. Bush in the future kind of showing, you know, “In World War II and Vietnam we had these issues; during the Cold War we had these issues; these enemies that we fight today, we have new enemies. And I’m the right man to do it.”

BROCKMAN: Dr. Edward Horowitz is a political scientist at the University of Oklahoma.

HOROWITZ: Even though right now we’re in the midst of a situation where we’re very focused on international affairs, if you think back to ‘88 and the period after the Gulf—in ‘92 after the Gulf War, that was not talked about again in the election. It was over. It was done with and our focus had really shifted. So, if things wrap themselves up in terms of the war on terrorism it’s possible that that could just not be an issue in future advertising spots.

BROCKMAN: Indeed, international affairs have not been much of an issue in recent presidential campaigns and political ads. But that wasn’t always the case.

Lewis Mazanti: [with the sound of an electric motor in the background] It’s a very specialized photo archive chamber where we….

BROCKMAN: The University of Oklahoma Political Communication Center has an archive of thousands of political TV and radio ads. The Center’s former director, co-authored an extensive analysis of the ads. The study covered elections from 1952 to the end of the Cold War. Foreign issues ranked second only to economics as the most likely subject of presidential TV ads. The study also shows Republicans were more likely than Democrats to run ads about international affairs.

ANNOUNCER: [with the sounds of explosions in the background] Four years ago, many of our young men were on Heartbreak Ridge in Korea.

BROCKMAN: Dwight Eisenhower ran the first presidential TV ads 50 years ago. And many of them were about international affairs.

ANNOUNCER: Eisenhower answers America!

MAN IN COMMERCIAL: Mr. Eisenhower, are we going to have to fight another war?

PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE DWIGHT EISENHOWER: No. Not if we have a sound program for peace.

HOROWITZ: International affairs were, were an important aspect of the advertisements in 1952 when Eisenhower was running. Particularly the issue of Korea and what was going to happen there. There were some interesting ads, mostly focusing on the fact that he was the general and so that, that had a strong play that, you know, he had a good knowledge and was able to handle international affairs very well, compared to his opponent Adlai Stevenson, who was simply just the governor from, from Illinois. Interestingly enough, the General Eisenhower, he was very shocked and you know, worried about using commercials. He was very much against it from the beginning. And he thought that using television was sort of stooping to quite a low level of people’s intelligence and that they wouldn’t really find that appealing. A lot of the ads had common folk coming in, looking up towards him in sort of a king-like figure, asking him questions like “General, what shall we do about the war?” “General, you know, what shall we do about the situation in Korea?” And always addressing him as “General.”

BROCKMAN: These were mostly talking ads without a lot of visuals. But that started to change in 1959. Then Vice President Richard Nixon was running against Senator John Kennedy for President.

PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE NIXON: And so our next president must continue to show clearly that America is strong; that we will not tolerate being pushed around by anybody; that we will never be put in a position where Mr. Khruschev or anybody else is able to coerce an American president because of Communist strength and our weakness.

HOROWITZ: Nixon tried to use a lot of clips. Mostly a lot of still photographs to show his great experience in international affairs. Remember, in, if you think back to 1960, Nixon had just come out of having a very successful, that famous Kitchen Debate with Khruschev in 1959. And he was really touting his international experience. Khruschev was seen, had been seen so widely over television in that time period—you know, slamming his shoe at the U.N—all those, those famous things. And he used a lot of advertisements emphasizing his international—showing him meeting with world figures, showing him in other international places. Now Kennedy tried to counter those advertisements by showing video clips of people protesting at times when Nixon came to all these different places.

BROCKMAN: Dr. Horowitz says this was an indication political ads were quickly becoming more sophisticated. In 1964 the Lyndon Johnson-Barry Goldwater presidential race focused on the Cold War.


[The little girl continues her count in the background as Mr. Horowitz speaks.]

HOROWITZ: It’s called the “daisy ad.” It only ran one time on TV and what it shows is a little girl picking flowers, picking the petals off of a daisy and counting them, “One, two, three,” and then the ad switches to a countdown for a nuclear bomb going off and the camera going into her eyes very closely and the bomb kind of going off inside her eyes.

[The ad switches to the nuclear blast countdown: “Four, three, two, one”—The sound of a nuclear explosion.]

PRESIDENT LYNDON JOHNSON: These are the stakes: to make a world in which all of god’s children can live; or to go into the dark. We must either love each other or we must die.

ANNOUNCER: Vote for President Johnson on November 3. The stakes are too high for you to stay home.

HOROWITZ: It was a very strong ad. It was a very powerful ad. And, you know, showing that Goldwater was really not a man to be trusted with nuclear bombs. The ad never mentioned Goldwater’s name; it just said that, you know, the stakes are very high for us at this time. But what happened, as soon as that ad ran, the telephone started ringing off the hook at the White House. And Johnson was like, “What is going on. What, what have we done? What did we do?” You know, because the ads were being done—he’s not directly involved with them as much as his campaign was. And they realized that this was something a little too powerful and people were really shocked by it at the time. They pulled it off right away. Interestingly enough, it got so much coverage later in newspapers, TV news, etc., that many more people saw it probably from that news coverage than they would have seen it probably if it had just aired normally as a commercial.

That’s one of the things about political advertising that makes it so important. That it is appealing to our emotions, not so much to our knowledge. And we have here a basic debate over political advertising as such. Should voters decide about elections based on information? Here’s where our candidate stands; here’s the information. Should the candidate in a commercial spot give that information to the voters? Or, as campaign consultants like to tell it, you know, we should appeal to the emotions. Try to get a visceral reaction from a voter. And that’s what some of these ads, particularly the daisy ad and these other ones, are trying to do.

BROCKMAN: Moving forward to 1972, foreign affairs dominated political ads as the Vietnam War came to an end. This also coincided with President Nixon’s groundbreaking trip to China. It was the first visit by a sitting president to that Communist nation since the 1940s. And Nixon used it to his advantage.

[Chinese music plays in the background]

ANNOUNCER: China is one of the largest countries in the world. Yet no American president had ever been there. China is one of the most populous countries in the world. Yet no American leader had even talked with them in 23 years—until Richard Nixon.

[sound of a Western-style military band playing march]

BROCKMAN: But the Watergate scandal pushed international affairs aside. Dr. Horowitz says Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter paid only token attention to foreign topics. It didn’t take long, though, for foreign affairs to make a comeback. In 1980, during the Iran hostage crisis, Ronald Reagan was running for president.

HOROWITZ: Reagan was running a lot of ads touting the fact that Democrats were supporting Reagan. There were, there were, at the end of each ad it said, “Democrats for Reagan.” One of interesting ones came about when, after William Safire wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times saying that the Ayatollah Khomeni did not want Americans to vote for Reagan because they wanted a weak president in the United States. And showed a lot of scenes of the Ayatollah and Iran. And, after the hostages being taken there, that was seen as a very important advertisement.

presidential candidate ronald reagan: [with the sound of a street protest in the background] It was a dark day for America. Held in contempt by foreign nations; ridiculed in Iran. So many countries thought America had seen its day. But we knew better.

HOROWITZ: Mondale, on the other hand, tried to show that the failures of Reagan in Central America, in Lebanon, and that the whole world was watching, that we must be very careful about what was going on. So international affairs were very important in, in 1984, in that Reagan-Mondale election.

BROCKMAN: The political landscape changed considerably with the end of the Cold War. Since then domestic affairs dominated presidential elections. In fact, Dr. Horowitz notes neither of the two major candidates in the most recent election had any ads about international affairs.

HOROWITZ: George W. Bush, because he had no international experience, you know, he didn’t really want to talk about that a lot. He wanted to focus on his domestic experience. Al Gore was interesting because he did, he talked about things like the environment and there was a sense that he had a good feel for international affairs. But he never really used that in any of his campaign spots.

BROCKMAN: Whether the focus on domestic ads will continue in the next presidential election or shift back to international affairs may well depend on how long the current war on terrorism lasts. For Common Ground, I’m Cliff Brockman.

PORTER: The political commercials we heard in Cliff’s story are part of a unique archive at the University of Oklahoma’s Political Communication Center. Cliff, saving old political commercials is certainly different. Tell us how this collection got started.

BROCKMAN: Keith, it was started by Julius P. Kantor. Kantor was a former radio and TV manager. He also had a keen interest in politics and was a delegate to the National Democratic Convention in 1956. For whatever reason he started saving campaign commercials that were sent on film and later videotape to the stations he managed. Eventually he collected 25,000 radio and TV commercials. Leroy Bridges is the Interim Director of the Political Communication Center. He was instrumental in bringing the collection and Kantor to the University of Oklahoma in 1985.

LEROY BRIDGES: The University paid him a total of $1 million for the collection, in two parts. One-half million dollars up-front money and then signed a contract with Julian to become the curator for ten years at $50,000 a year.

BROCKMAN: Kantor retired in 1995. That’s about when the University hired Lewis Mazanti to manage the collection. While I was in Norman, Oklahoma, Mizzani gave me a tour of the rooms that house the archives.

Lewis Mazanti: It’s environmentally controlled to keep our temperature and humidity within the acceptable range. But we try to keep our room around 55 and the humidity around 45%.

BROCKMAN: Besides the archive there’s also a room with lots of old video playback equipment. And all of it works!

Mazanti: We’ve got a wide range of equipment from the, pretty much the newest stuff to the oldest working equipment in the broadcast entry, which is kind of a unique thing about an archive; it’s something like a, a working museum.

BROCKMAN: Keeping track of all the commercials can be a headache. Originally Julius Kantor catalogued all the commercials in loose-leaf notebooks, if you can imagine. Now students are hired to inventory the ads on computer. Eventually the system they hope will be online.

PORTER: Cliff, who looks at all these old political commercials?

BROCKMAN: Well, mostly scholars doing research. But Louis tells me the news media called him, especially during election years when they’re trying to do a story. And he says Hollywood sometimes calls when a producer is looking for a commercial, for example, to use in a period movie.

MCHUGH: Public opinion, the media, and the war on terrorism, next on Common Ground.

ANDREW KOHUT: What is what goes on in Yugo—the former Yugoslavia really mean to me? Is the stability of Europe really an important issue to the United States? Those questions can be addressed a little more directly now. Or questions analogous to them, through, is this gonna be good for our war against terrorism or not?

MCHUGH: Printed transcripts and audio cassettes of this program are available. Listen at the end of the broadcast for details, or visit our Web site at Common Ground is a service of the Stanley Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that conducts a wide range of programs designed to provoke thought and encourage dialogue on world affairs.

PORTER: Randomly asking a number of people a variety of probing questions is one of the best ways to check the pulse of public opinion. These public opinion polls measure anything from our cereal preference to our choice of political candidates. But polls are also a way to measure the emotional toll of events like September 11. Andrew Kohut is the Director of the Pew Research Center in Washington, DC. Kristin recently talked with him about the Center, the polling process, and the aftermath of 9/11.

ANDREW KOHUT: The Pew Research Center is a public interest polling organization. By that I mean we conduct surveys about politics, about policy issues, about the media, not for any particular clients or special interest groups but rather for the public, for people who are interested in public opinion. And we disseminate the results of our surveys as widely as we can. And we try to provide both a depth in measuring public opinion and also a currency at the same time. In other words, we stay with the issues and get our reports out in a contemporaneous way but we do it in, in considerable depth as well.

MCHUGH: Now you have conducted—or the Research Center—has conducted a number of surveys since September 11. Can you tell me what they focused on?

KOHUT: Well, initially they focused on the reaction of the American public to this horrific event and what the emotional—one of the things that we looked at was the emotional toll it took on the public. We had been conducting these surveys during the Gulf War, measuring the stress that was associated with watching the war in the Gulf and worrying about our service people. And we used similar questions about depression and sleeplessness to gauge reactions to the, the terrorist attacks of September 11. We found an extraordinarily high level—even higher, much higher than we had found back in January of 1991. So that was one thing.

The other thing, we did surveys about on a continuing basis, is how the public was getting its news. The way the public felt about the news reports: what sources, what news sources they were using; how the public felt about coverage of the war in Afghanistan; and obviously, the way the public felt about the use of force and what our policy decisions should be; how the public regarded President Bush. And the ways in which foreign policy—attitudes toward foreign policy were very much affected by this, the September 11 events.

MCHUGH: How has the American press fared in the eyes of the American public since September 11?

KOHUT: Well, I did a big study back in November and I made a presentation and I said, “For the first time in 15 years I can say [laughs] the American public has a better opinion of the media.” I’m so accustomed to saying opinions, the public has a less favorable evaluation. But the public thought the press did a very good job in covering the attacks and covering terrorism, the war on terrorism. And so great that it spilled over to a more favorable general attitude in the, of the news media in terms of its patriotism, its caring about people it reports on, its professionalism, and so on. So, the, it was really quite a, quite a positive, quite a positive reaction. It was a, the press really shining at a very dark moment.

And the public has looked more favorably upon all institutions, I might add, to put this in perspective. It now has a better opinion of government than it did prior to September 11. And it was a remarkable reaction. Part of it had to do with the public needed the news in a way that it didn’t need news about Gary Condit, let’s say. Or any of the sensational things that the national press is, has focused on in order to keep interest going in a time of sparse news activity.

And secondly, the news about September 11 wasn’t divisive. It wasn’t partisan. It was about the country undergoing this tremendous shock but pulling together. And people like that. So, the reactions were very positive.

MCHUGH: Now that the wall-to-wall coverage on September 11 has faded, are the opinions starting to shift more negatively towards the press?

KOHUT: We’ve seen some declines in the evaluations even as recent, as soon as November in the way the public looked at press coverage. But that was sort of natural. Attitudes were still fairly positive. But once we get back to more partisan views on policy questions here in Washington, when we get back to the unfortunate hyping of the news that the media sometimes does, we’ll get back to the American public not having such a good regard for the press, if that’s really what does happen.

MCHUGH: Now, if the ratings for the press have gone up, does that mean that the viewership, or the listenership, or the readership has gone up and therefore the public has a much better knowledge of current events?

KOHUT: Well, I think you could see that the answer to that is yes. And you can really see that in public opinion reactions to the war against terrorism were very informed. The public wasn’t expecting a quick victory. Even a survey that we did in January where we said “Do you expect that the war will be over once we capture or kill—if and when we capture or kill—Osama bin Laden?”, 92 percent said no. I mean, ‘cause the public was so, has been so well informed about the complicated nature of this. The levels of public information about the conflict and how it came about, and how terrorism came about, were very high in relative terms. And you do really have an informed public.

MCHUGH: We’ve talked about the public in general. I’m curious about younger generations. Have you seen any changes in their polling numbers as well?

KOHUT: Well, younger people have traditionally been not good news consumers. And this generation and even the preceding generation of young news consumers have been particularly bad news consumers—being inattentive to things and especially international events. And our surveys so far have shown that the young people came up to speed on terrorism and the war in Afghanistan. But when you look at some of the broader issues that, it doesn’t seem to be, it hasn’t changed. It hasn’t made a sea change in civic engagement among young people. But, you know, we’re only a few months away from, from this event and it, those kinds of shifts take time.

MCHUGH: Would you say that the press is shaping the American attitudes or is their coverage actually just mirroring the attitudes of Americans?

KOHUT: I think it’s a little bit of both. I think that the effect of the press to shape public attitudes is often overrated. On the other hand, the press provides a portrait of issues in the larger world that people don’t experience on an individual basis, so they look to the media for their information and they’re shaped by the pictures. I mean, I can give you an example in recent years. I mean, the most classic example of how the pictures of the war in Kosovo gave the Clinton administration enough support to do the modest things that it did to try to bring that conflict, to simmer it down and to stabilize the situation. Without, without the pictures in Kosovo in early 1999 there would have never been as much public support for the air war and doing what we were doing. Now, even those pictures and even the media coverage wouldn’t have given the Clinton administration the support it needed for a ground war. But it did shape public opinion. But on the other—you know, there are some things that the public looks at and says, “Well, that may be the way things are going but my values say, ‘No.’” And were contrary to what you would expect given the media exposures or even the spin of the media.

MCHUGH: I know from reading some of your recent surveys that the American public still tends to focus more on domestic issues than on foreign policy issues. But are they more concerned about foreign policy now than they were a year ago?

KOHUT: Oh, absolutely. I mean, I think there’s little question that we’ve been shaken by our vulnerability. And it’s no longer peace and prosperity. And people recognize that what goes on in the Mideast can reach up and grab them. Now does that mean that the American public is going to become more internationalist in terms of geopolitical policy questions? Does it mean that the public will follow the details of issues that are of concern on Colin Powell’s long list of things on his desk? Probably not. But, what it does mean is that the public is going to be much more engaged than it has been. It now has a prism for looking at world events—the threat of terrorism—just as we had the prism of the Cold War, that for better or for worse—and there’s an upside and a downside to having a prism like that—will give the public some sense of, of, of understanding and perspective on connections and linkages that the public had.

But in recent years in the post-Cold War era they were more difficult. What is what goes on in Yugo—the former Yugoslavia really mean to me? Is the stability of Europe really an important issue to the United States? Those questions can be addressed a little more directly now. Or questions analogous to them, through, is this gonna be good for our war against terrorism or not?

MCHUGH: For those who are engaged would you say that they have a specific issue in mind for their concerns of foreign policy? Or is there a list that they refer to?

KOHUT: Well, I think the public is first and foremost concerned right now with making sure that we stop the threat of terrorism, control weapons of mass destruction, and make sure that those weapons don’t get in the hands of, of people who want to do us harm. There are a lot of other issues—global concerns about the environment, about crime, about disease, about trade, about globalization—that are also on the public’s list. But you know, all of those things are a little less important than they were in relative terms compared to, prior to September 11.

MCHUGH: I know that the public has been incredibly supportive of the war against terrorism in Afghanistan. How do they feel about extending that way beyond the borders of Afghanistan?

KOHUT: Well, we were surprised that there’s a good deal of public support for going to war with Iraq if that’s required. And for missions into Sudan or Somalia. And this has been a public that has been very, very reluctant to use force throughout the ‘90s. But the public feels that we have our back to the wall; the public feels that we are at risk. And they support the administration. They’ve seen a success—what they see is a successful effort; albeit, an incomplete job. You know, when 92 percent say, “We need more war even if Osama bin Laden is caught” [laughs]… pretty strong endorsement of the use of force. Now, you know, there are limits to that. If things start to go badly, if there’s a lot of collateral damage where innocent people are hurt or we don’t seem to be as capable as we’ve been here, well then there would likely be not as much support as there is. But there’s a, there’s a pretty substantial level of support for more war.

MCHUGH: Do you sometimes find yourself thinking, “Am I in 1992? Or am I in the year 2002?” In terms of, of polling and the questions being related to a Bush administration being related to war, being related to recession. I mean, it seems to me that it’s almost the same in many ways.

KOHUT: Well, you’re right because, in fact, we used some of the same questions. [laughs] I mean, I had a question that I asked during the ‘92 campaign which said, “Do you think President Bush is trying as hard as he possibly can to fix the economy?” And consistently 75 percent didn’t think he was trying. Which is a pretty bad indictment of one of the reasons why he wasn’t returned to office. And I asked that same question about George W. Bush. And we had a pretty even division of opinion. “Yes, I think he’s trying as hard as he can.” “No, he’s not.”

MCHUGH: Have you had to change the way that you conduct polling after September 11?

KOHUT: Actually polling got easier after September 11. People wanted to talk. When we, you know, we were really worried about calling people up. September—I think we started September 12—or the 13th we started. And we were worried about, you know, what kind of reaction are we gonna get. And we got a lot of, you know, “We wanna talk about this.” I mean, I think if you had called up and said “I’m doing a poll about Quaker Oats” and whether you like this, that, or the other thing—a market research poll—you might have gotten a very different reaction. But talking about what happened to us—no, I don’t think we have. I mean there’s always a struggle to do polling effectively ‘cause people don’t like to be bothered, harassed by telemarketers or by boring polls. But it hasn’t gotten any worse. If anything it’s gotten better.

MCHUGH: Andrew Kohut is the Director of the Pew Research Center in Washington, DC. For Common Ground, I’m Kristin McHugh.

PORTER: And I’m Keith Porter. Cassettes and transcripts of this program are available. The transcripts are free; cassettes cost $5.00. To place an order or to share your thoughts about the program, write to us at: The Stanley Foundation, 209 Iowa Avenue, Muscatine, Iowa 52761. Please refer to Program Number 0213. That’s Program Number 02-13. To order by credit card you can call us at 563-264-1500. That’s 563-264-1500.

MCHUGH: Transcripts are also available on our Web site: Commongroundradio is all one word. Our e-mail address is

PORTER: Cliff Brockman is our Associate Producer. B.J. Liederman created our theme music. Common Ground is produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.

© 2002 by The Stanley Foundation

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