An Overlooked Campaign Pioneer? Thomas Dewey and Television in the 1950 New York Governor’s Race

Document Type


Department or Administrative Unit

Political Science

Publication Date

Winter 2019


In the crucial last weeks of his reelection campaign, from late September to early November 1950, Thomas Dewey used television in new, innovative ways on at least thirteen occasions to showcase personality traits he had demonstrated only briefly in his previous political campaigns. Media and political historians have largely overlooked this case, failing to see it as a significant event in politics and television, when “modern” political campaigning—using media consultants and television to market a candidate—began in earnest. This study argues that Governor Dewey not only used television as an important part of his reelection campaign, but that he successfully exploited the inherent qualities of the medium on a consistent basis before a general viewing audience on stations in New York State. An analysis of the governor’s televised campaign programs reveals he employed TV’s visual attributes not simply to address voters, but to connect with them on a personal level. He demonstrated a casual, easygoing style that was extremely effective on television, and he successfully capitalized on the experiential quality of the television medium.


This article was originally published in New York History. The full-text article from the publisher can be found here.

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New York History


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