A few days ago Andrew Sullivan reposted an analysis of presidential candidates’ font choices written by and based on a segment that aired on ABC. As discussed in these pieces, Obama uses Gotham, which is a very new font based on an old sign at the New York Port Authority Bus Terminal. Hillary uses Baskerville, designed in 18th century England and popularized in America by Benjamin Franklin. McCain uses Optima, which was created by prolific German type designer Hermann Zapf in the 1950s. But there’s a bit more to this.
First off, as Design Info notes, the typefaces Obama generally uses for his word marks are not Gotham. One word mark uses Perpetua, released in 1929 by Monotype; the other uses, as far as I can tell, a bold version of Requiem, designed by Hoefler & Frere-Jones, the creators of Gotham. (Although Hoefler & Frere-Jones don’t offer a bold version of Requiem, so maybe that’s not it.) Gotham was originally designed for a commission for GQ, which wanted a strong masculine font that felt traditional yet contemporary. Requiem is based on a face found in a Renaissance writing manual, and, according to the creators, “celebrates the fertile world of Renaissance humanism.” Perpetua was designed by Eric Gill, a stone cutter who saw Perpetua as a rational, humanist type for the 20th century. This is a complex mixture of type decisions, but I think it all boils down to a set of progressive, rationalist types that convey strength.
Hillary’s choice, Baskerville, is also a rational, neoclassical face created by British printer John Baskerville, a vocal atheist. Oddly enough, his magnum opus was the “Baskerville Bible,” printed for Cambridge press. Baskerville created only a small edition of this Bible, for which he created the ink and paper, as well as using his own typeface. Hillary’s choice in using this font is, I think twofold. First of all, it has historical roots in revolutionary America, where it was championed by Benjamin Franklin, a friend of Baskerville’s. Second, its use today is somewhat academic (its use was revived by Harvard University Press in 1917), and lends Hillary’s campaign the wonky character that she worked so hard to develop before ditching it for gritty populism sometime between the primaries in Ohio and Pennsylvania.
John McCain’s choice, Optima, was designed by Hermann Zapf, a German designer who modeled it after Roman inscriptions. I actually think the McCain campaign’s choice here was fairly straightforward: Optima is used for the engravings on the Vietnam Memorial. Since McCain’s campaign is largely based around his military experience, this choice makes sense.
Extra Bonus Link: the designers of Obama’s font choices Gotham and Requiem make fun of McCain’s and Clinton’s font choices.