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Daisy ad

The “Daisy ad” is a political advertisement that aired only once during the 1964 U.S. presidential campaign but has since become emblematic of political attack ads.

Created by the campaign of President Lyndon B. Johnson, the ad was aimed at painting his opponent, Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-AZ), as a reckless figure whose election could lead to nuclear war.

Goldwater’s statements about the potential use of tactical nuclear weapons had alarmed many, and the Johnson campaign sought to capitalize on this fear.

The ad was part of a broader strategy to portray Goldwater as an extremist and a warmonger.


The ad begins with a close-up of a little girl counting while she plucks petals from a daisy.

As her counting becomes confused, a stern, authoritative male voice begins a countdown.

The camera zooms into her eye, and the scene cuts abruptly to footage of a nuclear explosion.

The visual metaphor was designed to link Goldwater’s policies and statements with the potential for nuclear catastrophe.


The overt message of the ad is not about Goldwater directly; in fact, his name is never mentioned.

The implicit message, however, is clear: the ad suggests that electing Goldwater, who had expressed willingness to use nuclear weapons, could lead to nuclear war.

President Johnson’s voice then comes on, stating, “These are the stakes. To make a world in which all of God’s children can live, or to go into the dark. We must either love each other, or we must die.”

The ad concludes with a voice urging viewers to vote for Johnson.


The ad is often credited with having a substantial impact on the 1964 election, though it only aired once.

The media coverage that followed gave it a life beyond its single airing, making it one of the most famous political ads in American history.

Goldwater’s campaign denounced the ad, but the damage was done. The portrayal of Goldwater as a potential cause of nuclear war resonated with the public’s fears.

The ad became a turning point in the campaign, contributing to Johnson’s landslide victory.

But its significance extended far beyond the 1964 election.

As the Smithsonian Magazine notes:

Daisy became the iconic spot of its era not because it was the first Johnson ran in 1964; we remember it primarily because of its brilliant, innovative approach to negative advertising.

The ad established a new frontier in political advertising, showing that emotional appeals and implicit messages could be incredibly powerful.

The ad’s innovative use of visuals and sound, along with its stark and frightening message, set a precedent for future political attack ads.

Moreover, the ad has become a symbol for negative campaigning and is often referenced in discussions about the ethics and effectiveness of political advertising.

Some praise it as a masterful example of political communication, while others condemn it as manipulative.

More on the “Daisy ad”

The gold standard for negative political ads, and as such, extremely influential to this day.

The term refers to President Lyndon Johnson’s one-time-only spot, in the 1964 campaign, suggesting Republican rival Barry Goldwater would launch a nuclear war if elected. A little girl was shown picking the petals from a daisy. The camera zoomed in on her face, followed by the image of a mushroom cloud. An estimated 50 million viewers saw it—a great return for a $25,000 investment.

More than fifty years later, Republican White House hopeful Mike Huckabee dusted off the iconic ad to warn of the dangers of a nuclear deal with Iran. In the former Arkansas governor’s version, the ad ended with text stating that “a threat to Israel is a threat to America” and called on viewers to “stand with Israel” and “reject a nuclear Iran,” before asking people to sign a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry on Huckabee’s website.

Huckabee is hardly the first candidate to invoke the Daisy ad. In 1996 GOP nominee Bob Dole trotted it out in attacking President Bill Clinton over national drug policy. The spot opened with Daisy Girl footage as the stern-toned narrator said, “Thirty years ago, the biggest threat to her was nuclear war. Today the threat is drugs,” before reeling off a litany of criticisms about Clinton’s supposedly inadequate funding for antidrug programs.

From Doubletalk © 2016 Chuck McCutcheon and David Mark.

Use of “Daisy ad” in a sentence

  • Many political analysts point to the Daisy ad as a watershed moment in political advertising, marking a shift towards more emotive and hard-hitting campaign strategies that continue to influence modern political races.
  • The Daisy ad’s implicit portrayal of Barry Goldwater as a potential instigator of nuclear war became a defining narrative of the 1964 presidential campaign, illustrating the power of visual metaphors and fear-based appeals.
  • As political campaigns become increasingly contentious, candidates and strategists still study the Daisy ad, both admiring its effectiveness and grappling with the ethical questions it raises about the line between persuasive communication and manipulation.