Characteristics of a Communicator and Factors of Communication: Kennedy-Nixon Presidential Debate 1962
The US presidential debate that saw the then Vice President Richard M. Nixon and the little-known John F. Kennedy took place on September 26, 1960. This debate is credited as an integral component that revolutionized America’s contemporary political landscape because it was the first to be ever televised. It shifted the mode of conducting presidential campaigns as the television media took presidential campaigns into America’s living rooms, with over 70 million Americans watching them. The Nixon-Kennedy debate ushered in a new political era where candidates had an opportunity to utilize the media to craft their public image to increase their chances of winning in the democratic elections. The communication characteristics of the two candidates played a critical role in influencing the election’s outcome,, which saw John F. Kennedy become the 35th US President.
John F. Kennedy
As a prospective US president, the two leaders were expected to display the highest level of public speaking skills by conveying charisma, expertise, passion, and confidence in their speeches. A good speaker should connect emotionally with the listeners in order to inspire them or achieve a given communication purpose. The little-known John F. Kennedy leveled his powerful opponent with a higher grasp of communication skills in his speech. Greenstein notes that Kennedy’s intelligence, charisma, and oratory eloquence during the debate gave him a higher hand before the millions of spectators who were seeing him on television (Perloff, 2021). He knew what to say from the very first time he talked. For instance, Kennedy said, “In the election of 1960, and with the world around us, the question is whether the world will exist half-slave or half-free, whether it will move in the direction of freedom, in the direction of the road that we are taking, or whether it will move in the direction of slavery” (CPD, 2020). Kennedy’s capability to explain his goals, policies, and visions in a manner that resonated with most Americans won him a vast public accolade in the presidential debate. He presented his arguments in a thoughtful and carefully worded manner, making him an accomplished public communicator compared to his opponent, Nixon. Besides, Kennedy capitalized on his good looks and charisma to move the audience that was watching him into listening to his arguments.
Richard M. Nixon
Vice President Nixon’s communication skills presented him as the opposite of Kennedy’s skills. The people who watched the televised debate said that Kennedy won because Nixon displayed a cold personality and lacked charisma in spite of his powerful argumentative skills and keen intellect. Greenstein notes that Nixon lacked the skills of a natural public speaker as he appeared uneasy and avoided facing the camera directly throughout the debate, making the audience feel that he was avoiding eye contact (O’Brien, 2020). His uneasy demeanor and bland personality could have made more people distrust him, although Americans who followed the debate on the radio said that Nixon won.
Nixon and Kennedy’s Persuasion Factors and Ratings
A close analysis of the Nixon-Kennedy presidential debate may make someone wonder about the psychology of the presidential candidate or any public speaker, forming a deep bond with an audience that one has never met. Nixon came into the debate standing a higher chance of winning because he was more famous than Kennedy (Greenstein, 2021). However, airing the debate on television for the first time created something that America had never experienced in politics. Kennedy came out as a more suitable candidate to win the presidency, contrary to most opinions before the debate. Television media offered the central persuasion root where presidential candidates presented their arguments using verbal and non-verbal cues. Nixon and Kennedy needed to possess intellectual means, capacity, and involvement that would enable them to connect with the audience watching them. The audience would, in turn, judge their capabilities based on the candidates’ arguments, charisma, knowledge, and ability to present arguments in a manner that inspires the audience to listen (Perloff, 2021). Self-assurance and confidence during the debate made Kennedy a favorite because of how the audience reacted to his presentations. Even critics of the debate have often praised Kennedy’s use of anaphora, “I’m not satisfied” whenever he was presenting, quoting a policy that needed change in the US and “To get America moving again” to show his readiness to offer solutions (CPD, 2020). Kennedy also took his persuasion a notch higher by deliberately refraining from talking about critical issues such as the US economy and civil rights and focusing on ideals that embraced solutions to these issues, including hope and equity. Nixon’s focus on information processing as the central route in his arguments failed to appeal to many people. I would rate Kennedy 4 because of his ability to utilize verbal, non-verbal, and social factors to connect with his audience. Nixon will receive 3 out of five because of his lack of physical connection with the audience.
The comparison between Nixon and Kennedy was more about who was a more effective communicator than a better speaker. The difference between Nixon’s and Kennedy’s communication abilities during the presidential debate is among the integral components that propelled Kennedy toward the presidency because his suave public discourse won the hearts of many Americans.
Greenstein, M. N. (2021). Judging in a Politicized America. Judges’ Journal, 60(4).
O’Brien, L. H. (2020). Liking and Listening: Impression Formation and Information Processing in Presidential Debates. https://scholarship.richmond.edu/honors-theses/1505?utm_source=scholarship.richmond.edu%2Fhonors-theses%2F1505&utm_medium=PDF&utm_campaign=PDFCoverPages
Perloff, R. M. (2021). The dynamics of persuasion: Communication and attitudes in the 21st century (7th ed.). Routledge Link https://www.debates.org/voter-education/debate-transcripts/september-26-1960-debate-transcript/
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Try to imagine what it must have been like to elect a national leader before the days of television or even radio. Consider Abraham Lincoln, who ranks among the greatest U.S. presidents. Although he is famous for many of his speeches, relatively few people in the 1860s would ever have heard him speak. Most would not know what his voice sounded like and what impression his words made as he spoke. Many would have seen his image but not know what he was like in person and the impact of his physical presence. Despite how we honor Lincoln today, he was not nearly as popular when he was president. There were plenty of critics who did not see him as competent. Consider one factor—Lincoln’s appearance. If you knew little else about him, how would his photo influence your view of him?
Contrast that experience to what we know today. All forms of media cover the U.S. presidential elections. You get constant opportunities to evaluate firsthand a presidential or vice-presidential candidate’s characteristics as a communicator and qualities as a leader. As you examine through the reading in the text, you may be influenced by a candidate’s social attractiveness, authority, and credibility. Consider how the core characteristics of expertise, trustworthiness, and goodwill apply not only to political candidates but to other people in our lives and inform how we pay attention to them and how they influence our thinking and actions.
For this Assignment, you will explore the characteristics of a communicator and how source factors in persuasion influence your views of a speaker and the person’s words and ideas. You will analyze a national presidential or vice presidential debate for your response to the two candidates, with emphasis on your judgment of their credibility.
Select one of the following U.S. presidential or vice presidential debates as the focus of your assignment:
John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon: September 26, 1960
George H. W. Bush and Geraldine Ferraro: October 11, 1984
Barack Obama and John McCain: September 26, 2008
Access the media link related to your chosen presidential or vice-presidential debate in the Learning Resources to view the debate. (You are not required to watch the entire debate.) Access the associated transcript for reference in citing examples from the debate.
Review the Week 4 reading in the text, paying particular attention to the relevant information in Chapter 10 related to the components of credibility, such as the core characteristics, the role of context and types of bias.
By Day 7
Submit a 3- to 5-page paper that addresses the following:
Provide examples of each of the core characteristics (trustworthiness, expertise, and goodwill) for each debater from the debate. That is, if you are watching the Kennedy/Nixon debate, you will give examples of where Kennedy and Nixon each demonstrated trustworthiness, expertise, and goodwill.
Evaluate the role of context (culture, politics, or economics) in the debate. For example, how did the economic downturn during the Obama/McCain debate possibly play a role in how viewers thought about each candidate?
Describe the debaters’ biases.
Explain the impact of the debaters’ social attractiveness on your analysis.
Based on your analysis of the core characteristics (trustworthiness, expertise, goodwill), rate each participant on a scale of 1-5; 1 for not credible and 5 for highly credible. Support your rating with information from the Week 4 Learning Resources and the specific debate.
Share your biases for or against each candidate and explain how your biases informed your rating of each person.
Note: Support the responses within your Assignment with evidence from the assigned Learning Resources, including in-text citations. Provide a reference list of resources you used for this Assignment.
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