Election Returns: Nixon vs. Kennedy

"Nixon vs. Kennedy" is a unique episode in that throughout the episode the audience gets to re-live the Election Day coverage from the perspective of the characters. The episode is littered with instances where the audience gets to see authentic footage on the characters black and white televisions allowing to track the progress of the election returns. There are a number of clips from this episode relating to election controversies that are briefly mentioned that warrant more analysis.

22 to 1?
Perhaps the most shocking clip of authentic election coverage came at the beginning of the episode when the NBC broadcast boldly stated, “With early returns just coming in, our NBC computer is putting Senator Kennedy’s odds at a grim sounding 22 to 1.” This news-bite comes to the approval of all those working at Sterling Cooper who were Nixon supporters. The reason this clip is so alarming is because the audience knows that the polls leading up to Election Day were incredibly close and that the difference in the popular vote was only about .1%. It turns out that as soon as the same NBC computers predicted unfavorable results for the Nixon campaign their legitimacy was completely dismissed by the Nixon Campaign Manager Len Hall. He adamantly proclaimed, “We should put all those electronic computers in the junk pile.” While it is clear that computer predictions of election winners today is not as significantly flawed as they were in in 1960, they still can be somewhat unreliable today.

What is the Electoral College?

“I don’t think that's a conversation appropriate for children.” This is the response to Sally’s seemingly simple question, and Don's lack of an answer can be somewhat puzzling. It is a wonder why he simply didn’t remark somewhere along the lines that, “The people of the United States vote for the electors who then vote for the President." The audience can only speculate why he failed to explain this, but I was able to come up with three possible theories. It could have just been a way to cover up not knowing what it was. He may have not wanted to explain the concepts of electoral votes to his young daughter who may not have understood it anyway. A final possible theory of why it may not have been “appropriate” may have something to do with the uniqueness of the electoral college system. The United States functions on a two party system which makes it incredibly difficult for anybody but the Republican candidate (Nixon) or the Democratic Party (Kennedy) to win any electoral votes. 1960 was interesting in that an unpledged Democratic candidate, Harry Flood Byrd, wound up winning 15 electoral votes. One of Byrd’s most noteworthy political stances was his advocation of segregation in public schools which is a quality that perhaps may not be “appropriate” and could have possibly tarnished Sally’s innocence.

“I’ve read three different newspapers with three different results.”

The election in many cases was too close to when Nixon refused to concede and went to bed instead at around 4:00 A.M. This did not prevent the press from printing the election results anyway. One of the most interesting stories documented about a newspaper running the presses proclaiming a winner while the election was still close to call was The New York Times. As the night continued and the results were becoming closer, Times Managing Editor Turner Catledge admitted to becoming increasingly nervous that he would be embarrassed in a similar fashion The Chicago Tribune was embarrassed when they printed “Dewey Defeats Truman.”

Image credit: http://www.myptsmail.com/hotdog256/blog/?p=2272

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1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed the links made by your article to the series. Everyone watching Mad Men now knows that Kennedy won but it is still extremely interesting to see the morning after when the guys at the office say that it is still uncertain. This was a huge election for the time and it is very cool that the series covered it and made it a part of their first season. I also really enjoyed the connections made to the electoral college. When first watching the scene when Don doesn't tell Sally about the electoral college, I thought it was quite weird because this is something that is important to know and is taught everyone in schools nowadays.