Today the 2016 US presidential election comes to a close and for the last few months videos and photographs of each candidate have dominated social media, newspapers, and television with the intention of influencing voters. A candidate’s appearance plays a significant role in elections, a lesson we first learned during Abraham Lincoln’s presidential campaign in 1860. His was the first to use photography as a political tool, distributing tens of thousands of campaign buttons featuring a tintype of Lincoln’s face on one side, and his running mate Hannibal Hamlin on the other. For the first time in political history, voters were able to see the faces of the candidates. Only two decades after photography’s invention, Lincoln’s campaign was a benchmark for the effect that the photographic medium would come to have on politics.
100 years later, in 1960, the Presidential debate between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy was the first to be televised. Radio listeners believed that Nixon had won the debate, however, those watching on their television sets, were won over by Kennedy’s youth and confidence—believing him to be the winner of the debate.
Following the positive response to the buttons, Lincoln’s opponent Stephen Douglas was compelled to release his own campaign portrait, a move that came too little too late. Lincoln won the presidency in a landslide victory and went on to be photographed more than any other President in the 19th century, and many other Presidents in the 20th century.