Outcome 2012 Presidential Election Predictable By Typography?

  • Fonts in Use
Fonts in Use | Yves Peters | November 13, 2012

Now that the dust has settled and the United States of America have elected their new… errr… old president, I thought I’d have a look at the campaign logos to see if the type tells us anything that we should have known. 20/20 hindsight, ya know? Since Shepard Fairey and the Obama camp embraced Gotham for the 2008 election, typography has paid a unprecedented role in American politics and daily life. Before the historic election of Barack Obama most people couldn’t care less what typeface the electoral campaigns were using. Since 2008 however I even overheard two suits discussing typography on Union Square Park in San Francisco a couple of years ago. And as I pointed out in the December 2009 episode of ScreenFonts the iconic “Hope” and “Change” posters by Fairey also spawned a new trend in film posters, with Gotham replacing the classic Trajan as typeface of choice for epic, inspirational movies. This made me realise that the outcome of the 2012 presidential election could easily have been predicted, simply by looking at the typography both main presidential candidates were using.
This post was written as satire and should not be taken seriously. The first one turning this into a political flame war gets booted off The FontFeed. Seriously.

The logo of the Mitt Romney / Paul Ryan campaign was a tell-tale sign that it was not going to end well for the Republican candidate and his running mate. Like I explain in my presentation Two Decades of Trajan in Movie Posters, three years ago FontFeed reader Owen Gjertsen Troy confirmed my suspicion that Trajan had lost its status as Oscar material. Basically it had been relegated to the standard, the inconspicuous default typeface for movie posters. As such it is now commonly found on collaterals for the lower end of the range in film posters: horror and gore, straight-to-DVD movies, low-budget pseudo-inspirational films, and other B-movie fare. These are certainly not connotations you want to make when you’re trying to win a presidential race. By using Trajan so prominently Romney / Ryan sent out the wrong message to film-savvy voters: “We are passé, we are sub-prime, and we will rip out your guts and eat your brains.” Sort of.

Furthermore the Republican presidential hopeful had incurred the wrath of the Font Gods because his communication team had used an unlicensed font. Typographically speaking he was dead in the water. Read all about this unsavoury incident in What Fonts Say About the Presidential Campaigns on The Content Strategist. However my take on this is – if you are giving away your fonts entirely for free and don’t even require a micro-payment, people may deduce that your work is worth nothing. Then a situation like this is not entirely unlikely to happen. Just my .99 cents.

Kevin Dietsch/UPI/NEWSCOM. License: All Rights Reserved. Source.

To be fair one could argue that the game was rigged by the newly re-elected President Obama. By the way – the next time I hear a reporter on NPR say “Mister Obama” again I am taking a friggin’ plane to punch the disrespectful bastich in the nose. Barack Obama was elected and earned the title for the rest of his life, just like all the other presidents before him. By insisting on calling him “Mister Obama” said reporters disrespect the office and the American people. It doesn’t matter whether you agree with him or not, Barack Obama is the President. Deal with it and get on with your pathetic life.

But back to typographically rigging the election. How could the Dynamic Democratic Duo have influenced the outcome of the election? Simply by using Gotham. But that’s the thing – only because it was originally used in the 2008 electoral campaign for Barack Obama / Joe Biden did Gotham earn its new position as typographical embodiment of epicness, of rising above one-self and achieving what was previously thought impossible. See how this story perfectly refers back to itself, and the serpent eats its own tail? Obama rode the typographic wave of success he himself created. Now that is cunning.

Yet there was some controversy about the logo for the slogan “Betting on America”. Nothing wrong with the script spelling “Betting on”: it is the all-American MvB display face MvB Mascot™, inspired by vintage script varsity lettering found in sports logos. From the description by MvB:

Naive and uneven yet jaunty and legible, such casual scripts, with their requisite underline swooshes, were standard equipment for baseball teams from one-horse towns to the major leagues. To bring this aesthetic to the digital arena, Mark van Bronkhorst began with a vintage iron-on alphabet, redesigning the flocked, overlapping letters to behave as a script typeface, expanding the character set to support all Latin-based languages. Despite its professional skill set, MVB Mascot™ retains the unvarnished spirit of its inspiration.

The other typeface is of somewhat more dubious descent, and it starts with its name. Revolution Gothic is a redesigned and extended version of PAG Revolucion, originally released by the Prop-A-Ganda type foundry in 2008. To add insult to injury the design is inspired by retro propaganda posters and wall paintings in communist (gasp!) Cuba from the 60s to the 80s. To make the typeface more versatile and usable for contemporary design needs, design details and spacing were modified, a lowercase was added, and the family was expanded to five weights with matching obliques.

I however am persuaded that we must look past the controversial name and inspiration source. I assume this typeface was chosen because it is very reminiscent of the New Deal, and the associated promotional work program posters, some of which were put together by the Works Progress Administration. This makes it an equally all-American, and above all positive and hopeful typeface that is perfectly in line with the original message from the Obama campaign.

To conclude – give me a call in four years, show me the campaign logos and I’ll tell you who’ll be the next president of the USA. Then we can finally dispense with that tedious business of voting and so on. ; )

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  1. Not starting a flame war. Just thought you might be interested to know more about the ‘mister’ honorific: http://www.northcountrypublicradio.org/news/npr/114431295/why-do-you-call-him-mr-obama

    Posted by Brady on Nov. 13, 2012
  2. I believe the NYTimes has a similar policy. It more of a journalistic style: you save characters and space.

    Posted by Michael on Nov. 14, 2012
  3. I really didn’t realise that. Maybe my memory is playing tricks on me, but I seem to remember cringing every single time the words “President” and “Bush” were spoken in immediate succession. Also – when speaking, the extra syllable in “President Obama” as opposed to “Mister Obama” doesn’t really have that much of an impact, does it?

    Posted by Yves Peters on Nov. 14, 2012
  4. I’m future-booking this page for a re-visit in 4 years, just as a gentle reminder for whatever happens then.

    Posted by Jan on Nov. 14, 2012
  5. Fascinating regarding type influencing voters, but I can see your point. Thank you for your article.

    Posted by Helen Laman on Nov. 14, 2012
  6. Obama’s typography looks like America and Romney’s is like an old lady’s jeweler.

    Posted by drew on Nov. 14, 2012
  7. Opinions are like assholes…our European Socialist’s post may need a rectal craniotomy because of overcrowding.

    Posted by Alan Bennington on Nov. 14, 2012
  8. Another thing about the Romney logo…

    Even before criticisms about Bain Capital, or the arguments over withheld tax returns, the campaign must have known his wealth would be an issue. (See “For Romney, Wealth Means Both Freedom and a Trap” by Ann Gerhart and Philip Rucker in last Sunday’s Washington Post). Questions like: Was he out of touch with average Americans? Did he care more about money for himself than middle class workers? So why did they pick a logo that nearly spells out the word “MONEY?” By making the R in Romney highly stylized, and the other letters plain, we are left to read “OMNEY.” Now, maybe it’s because I’m dyslexic, but I think many people taking a quick glance will be reminded of MONEY. There is nothing he can do about the spelling of his name, but he didn’t have to choose a design that highlighted those letters.

    Of course, it may be that they did it on purpose.

    (Read the rest at http://www.thebiggerhammermovie.com/blog/2012/10/romney%E2%80%99s-logo-problem )

    Posted by Keith Gaby on Nov. 14, 2012
  9. Everyone knows the Oscar winners prefer Bank Gothic anyway.

    Posted by Bank Gothic on Nov. 15, 2012
  10. But Romney and Ryan relied heavily on HTF Whitney and HTF Chronicle for the general election! How does this effect your findings? http://rogerblack.com/blog/post/why_romney_lost

    Posted by Steve McFarland on Nov. 15, 2012
  11. I only looked at the logos. Even disregarding the satiric nature of my post I doubt that the text faces could have had that much influence. HFJ Whitney and HFJ Chronicle are contemporary, but still playing it safe.

    Posted by Yves Peters on Nov. 15, 2012
  12. Posted by Mr Meme on Nov. 15, 2012
  13. Am I the only one who noticed the human figures lined up in the red, white, and blue R in the Romney logotype?

    Is it great? No. Is it better than some? Sure. Does it matter anymore? No.

    Posted by Joe on Nov. 17, 2012
  14. Great story! But please make your links in the text more visible. It’s very hard to find them!!!! PLEASE! Thanks.

    Posted by Michael on Nov. 18, 2012
  15. Yves:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t ‘AMERICA’ actually set in the original PAG Revolucion? Check the angles of the terminals on the ‘C’ and ‘E’.

    A ‘Y’ would be a dead giveaway.

    Posted by Maurice Meilleur on Nov. 19, 2012
  16. Maurice, I will not correct you, because you could very well be right. To be honest I didn’t doublecheck what PAG Revolucion exactly looks like, trusting the fact that the new and improved version would have been used by the Obama campaign. If I had any prizes to give away, I’d send one to you. ; )

    Posted by Yves Peters on Nov. 19, 2012
  17. I would have guessed the same. But at least in this instance and IMHO, the PAG cut actually looks better.

    Posted by Maurice Meilleur on Nov. 19, 2012
  18. A great study of type and psychology. Well done!

    Posted by Paul Bies on Nov. 21, 2012
  19. Very interesting material. Thank you.
    However, you are wrong about “Mister.” It is perfectly legitimate and honorable for a president. To want to force people to use “President” all the time would not be in keeping with American tradition in presidential history and it reels of royalty. We are all equal here in the USA. We have always called Presidents “mister” and one fine day, hopefully sooner rather than later we will be referring to the president as Ms.
    Thanks for the insightful article!

    Posted by Liked It on Nov. 25, 2012
  20. Thank you so much for clarifying this, what you write is really informative. So it appears I was wrong in my assumptions. I guess living in a monarchy myself skewed my perception of proper protocol. : )

    Posted by Yves Peters on Nov. 26, 2012

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