From BBC vaults: Five moments from US elections past

As Americans vote, the BBC reports. For decades, we have been covering how the US picks its president.

This year, we trawled our archive for highlights from our election coverage of days gone by.

The five antique gems below are snapshots of politicians and correspondents' evolving attitudes throughout the broadcast TV era.

To the modern viewer, those featured in these clips may seem over the top, crass and politically incorrect - and that's just the presenters.

1960 election: Race as an issue

From the BBC vault: Controversy over black vote in 1960

In 1948, the Democrats adopted a civil rights plank as part of their party platform.

At the time 35 Democratic leaders walked out. They later established their own short-lived party, the Dixiecrats.

But even after the Dixiecrats disbanded, animosity over civil rights remained among southern Democrats.

Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett was famous for his segregationist views, and opposed the civil rights workers from the north who travelled to his state to register voters and agitate for fair treatment for African Americans.

At the 1960 convention, the BBC's Robin Day questioned Barnett over the rights of African Americans. Barnett was unequivocal about his distaste for the equal rights movement.

1960 election: Democratic convention

From the BBC vault: Democrats gather in 1960 campaign

"Young, rich and handsome."

That's how the BBC's Robin Day described John F Kennedy while covering the 1960 Democratic convention in Los Angeles.

Kennedy was a political superstar, and his good looks and wealthy background - complete with photogenic trips to the family compound in Hyannisport - added to the appeal.

Kennedy would go on to win the election; his abbreviated term, cut short by an assassin's bullet, is often portrayed as an idyllic time in American history.

Day was part of the Panorama team that reported on the hysteria greeting Kennedy, then a senator, when he arrived in California.

While the technical glitches in this broadcast are still, occasionally, with us today, the attitude towards female interviewees has certainly evolved.

1976 election: Exorcising Nixon

From the BBC vault: Nixon's ghost in 1976 campaign

President Gerald Ford ran for a second term without ever having been elected by the American people for his first go-round.

US election - the essentials

Voting in US

Interactive: Predict the president

Poll tracker: The latest on who is leading

Guide: More about the battleground states

Key issues: What Obama and Romney stand for

Ford, who had been vice-president under Richard Nixon, served as the commander-in-chief only after Nixon resigned in 1974.

Two years later, Ford was on the campaign trail, working for a second term. But at the 1974 Republican convention in Kansas City, Missouri, his predecessor was absent from speeches, photos and literature.

The BBC's David Dimbleby reported on the glaring absence of all things Nixon.

Richard Nixon had once been such a popular figure that he won 49 states in his re-election campaign. But the pall of Watergate and Nixon's collusion in dirty tricks, espionage and sabotage made him off-topic as the Republicans tried to retain the White House - and regain their dignity.

In the end, it was Democratic challenger Jimmy Carter who won the election.

1980 election: Carter loses

From the BBC vault: Carter's loss, Reagan's future

Four years later, then-incumbent President Jimmy Carter didn't just lose to Republican challenger Ronald Regan - he lost big.

Carter, hampered by the Iran hostage crisis and saddled with a poor economic record, won only 49 electoral votes (out of 538). He gave his concession speech even before polls had closed on the West Coast.

In reporting on this loss, the BBC's Martin Bell previewed what was expected from Reagan, a relative newcomer to national and international politics, when he took office.

Unlike the liberal Carter, who emphasised environmentalism and poverty issues, Reagan's conservative credentials seemed to promise a leaner government with an focus on business - as well as the return of Henry Kissinger to the national stage.

1988 election: Dan Quayle profile

From the BBC vault: Dan Quayle's image troubles

"Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy."

This riposte from vice-presidential candidate Lloyd Bentsen, is considered one of the best smack-downs ever issued during a US televised political debate. His target? The Republican opponent, Dan Quayle.

Young and handsome, Quayle was also inexperienced - and, thanks to some very public gaffes - considered something of a dim bulb. When Quayle compared his experience in office to that of Jack Kennedy, Bentsen unleashed his now-famous retort.

That put the Republican campaign on the defensive, and they spent the following week rehabilitating Quayle's image.

The BBC's Charles Wheeler reported on the makeover effort.

Features & Analysis

Elsewhere on the BBC

  • Phantom BadgerReporting for duty

    BBC Autos discovers what makes Boeing’s new versatile and transportable war machine so special

Programmes

  • Papers Please gameClick Watch

    Meet the ‘bedroom programmer’ whose game has sold half a million copies and won a Bafta

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.