Campaigns and elections

Tony Schwartz

Jun 17 '08

Tony Schwartz has died. He was the creator of the “Daisy” ad. The New York Times obituary is here. The Washington Post obituary is here. The Daisy ad is here. Schwartz’s own website is here.

Interesting tidbits from his life:

* Schwartz was agoraphobic and rarely left his home. Political clients traveled to him.

* Schwartz also made field recordings of folk music and ambient noise in New York City. See here.

* Schwartz said, “The best political commercials are Rorschach patterns. They do not tell the viewer anything. They surface his feelings and provide a context for him to express these feelings.” That statement echoes a scholarly literature demonstrating that political ads “prime” or make salient certain considerations in the viewer’s mind.

* Schwartz also said that the Daisy ad was “the most positive commercial ever made.” That, I suppose, is in the eye of the beholder.

Both the Times and Post obituaries speak of the Daisy ad’s effectiveness without citing any particular source or evidence — e.g., “was credited with contributing to Johnson’s landslide victory at the polls in November” in the Times. To my knowledge, there is no evidence that the Daisy ad — which aired but once, albeit with news coverage thereafter — had any effect on the 1964 election. In fact, I have open Jim Stimson’s book Tides of Consent: How Public Opinion Shapes American Politics. In his chapter on campaigns, he presents LBJ’s percent of the vote throughout 1964. The Daisy ad aired on September 7, but LBJ’s share of the vote did not change at all from essentially the beginning of August until just before Election Day.

It is difficult to show that individual ads affect candidate fortunes or election outcomes, and the conventional wisdom that certain ads mattered in particular elections is typically based on conjecture and lore. The Daisy ad likely constitutes such a case.

Addendum: Here is Stimson’s graph: