A new book offers a brief visual history of political propaganda design.
The intersection of propaganda and creative culture has always been a centerpiece of political communication, from the branding of totalitarian regimes to the design legacy of the Works Progress Administration to Soviet animated propaganda. Now, from The Library of Congress—America's most centralized collective memory—and Quirk Books comes Presidential Campaign Posters: Two Hundred Years of Election Art. It's a magnificent, large-format volume of 100 tear-out, ready-to-frame political campaign posters from the Library of Congress archives, each contextualized by a short historical essay on the respective election, alongside its final electoral and popular vote statistics.
In the preface, NPR's always-brilliant media pundit Brooke Gladstone writes:
We media consumers are far too jaded by national politics to be influenced by campaign posters, right? We all know that posters are blatant manipulations, intended not to inform but to enlist. They emphasize faces and catchphrases. They condense complicated issues into jagged little pills. They are blunt instruments.
At the same time, the most effective campaign posters of every era leave as much as possible to the voter's imagination. They are like Japanese manga: the less detailed the image, the more easily we can identify with the candidate, the more space for projecting our dreams. The more specific the image, the greater the risk of creating a feeling of "otherness," which translates into death at the polls.
What emerges is a quilt portrait of politics itself, stitched together by a common thread of propaganda techniques and the underlying ideological necessities they bespeak, unchanging across the ages—all the more striking given many of these posters come from an age predating marketing as we know it and what Gladstone calls the "now never-ending research into the psychology of primary colors, the semiotics of sans serif, and the syntactics of the sound bite."