The earliest political ads on TV were primitive by modern standards. Here’s a 1952 ad for Dwight D. (“Ike”) Eisenhower.
From the 1960 election. Kennedy and Nixon, and both are amazingly dignified.
Here’s an example of a Kennedy attack ad from 1960 on Nixon. The inference is accurate — Ike didn’t like Nixon that much and felt Nixon had been forced on him by the right wing of the Republican party.
The 1964 election was notable for one very strong attack ads by the Democrats: The “Daisy” ad, only aired once but widely discussed, that highlighted Republican Sen. Barry Goldwater’s statements about use of nuclear weapons.
This 1964 Goldwater ad used Russian Premier Nikita Krushev to scare Americans.
1968 was an extraordinarily violent year, with the assassinations of Martin Luther King and then-presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy.
By 1972, feel-good “image ads” begin to dominate political campaigns, in part because after a wave of assassinations, most people were not feeling very good about politics. This is a Nixon classic — crude and heavy handed.
In 1984, Ronald Reagan took a similar but somewhat more sophisticated approach with his “Morning in America” ads:
By 1988, the George H.W. Bush campaign used the “Willie Horton” and “Revolving Door” ads to smear Michael Dukakis, a Massachusetts Democrat.
The 1992 Bill Clinton ads did not descend to Bush’s level but still involving sharp political criticism
In 2000, Al Gore promised to stop offshore oil drilling …
… While George W. Bush promised to protect prescription drug benefits for seniors …
In 2004, the most vicious attack ads in history were used against John Kerry, attacking his main strength — his military service — and painting it as a liability.