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1960 Presidential Elections - History


1960 Elections Kennedy vs Nixon

Senator Kennedy entered seven primaries and won all seven primaries he entered. His victory in West Virginia was particularly important. West Virginia had almost no Catholic voters. JFK's victory there showed he could win anywhere. Kennedy went into the Democratic convention of Los Angeles as the clear front runner. His superb campaign organization guaranteed him the victory on the convention hall. In his acceptance speech, Kennedy stated: "We stand today on the verge on a new frontier; the frontier of the 1960s; a frontier of unknown opportunities and perils; a frontier of unfulfilled hopes and threats." The Republicans in Chicago nominated vice President Richard Nixon.

Kennedy campaigned on the theme of getting the country moving again. He assailed the "missile gap" with the Russians and denounced the Eisenhower administration for allowing a Communist regime to come to power in Cuba.

Nixon criticized Kennedy for his lack of experience. However, Nixon forbade his staff from bringing up the question of Kennedy's religion (JFK was Catholic). Despite that fact, Kennedy's faith remained an issue. The final analysis of the election showed that Kennedy's religion ended up helping him more than it hurt him.


United States presidential election of 1960

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United States presidential election of 1960, American presidential election held on November 8, 1960, in which Democrat John F. Kennedy narrowly defeated Republican Vice Pres. Richard M. Nixon. Kennedy thus became the first Roman Catholic and the youngest person ever elected president. Kennedy was also the first president born in the 20th century.


56a. The Election of 1960


Coming into the first televised Presidential debate, John F. Kennedy had spent time relaxing in Florida while Richard Nixon maintained a hectic campaign schedule. As a result, Kennedy appeared tan and relaxed during the debate while Nixon seemed a bit worn down. Radio listeners proclaimed Nixon the better debater, while those who watched on television made Kennedy their choice.

It was one of the closest elections in American history.

The Republican insider was Richard Nixon of California, relatively young but experienced as the nation's Vice-President for 8 years under Dwight Eisenhower. The Democratic newcomer was John F. Kennedy , senator from Massachusetts, who at the age of 43 could become the youngest person ever to be elected President. Regardless of the outcome, the United States would for the first time have a leader born in the 20th century.

Age was not the only factor in the election. Kennedy was also Roman Catholic, and no Catholic had ever been elected President before. Al Smith , a Catholic, suffered a crushing defeat to Herbert Hoover in 1928. This raised serious questions about the electability of a Catholic candidate, particularly in the Bible Belt South. Questions were raised about Kennedy's ability to place national interests above the wishes of his Pope.


The Presidential election of 1960 was one of the closest in American history. John F. Kennedy won the popular vote by a slim margin of approximately 100,000 votes. Richard Nixon won more individual states than Kennedy, but it was Kennedy who prevailed by winning key states with many electoral votes.

To mollify these concerns, Kennedy addressed a group of Protestant ministers. He pledged a solid commitment to separation of church and state. Despite his assurances, his faith cost him an estimated 1.5 million votes in November 1960. Nixon decided to leave religious issues out of the campaign and hammer the perception that Kennedy was too inexperienced to sit in the Oval Office.

Nixon stressed his steadfast commitment to fighting communism. He had made a name for himself as a staunch red-baiter in the post-war era, leading the charge against alleged spy Alger Hiss . Nixon emphasized the importance of his 8 years as Vice-President. The Soviet Union and China were always pressing, and America could ill afford a President who had to learn on the job.

Kennedy stressed his character, assisted by those in the press who reported stories about his World War II heroism. While he was serving in the South Pacific aboard the PT109 , a Japanese destroyer rammed his ship and snapped it in two. Kennedy rescued several of his crewmates from certain death. Then he swam from island to island until he found a group of friendly natives who delivered a distress message Kennedy had carved into a coconut to an American naval base. Courage and character became the major themes of Kennedy's campaign.

Although both candidates were seen as moderates on nearly every policy issue of the time, each hailed from different backgrounds. Kennedy was from a wealthy background and graduated from Harvard University. Nixon painted himself the average American, growing up poor in California, and working his way through Whittier College.


The combination of New Englander John F. Kennedy and Texan Lyndon B. Johnson created what some called a "Boston-Austin connection" that helped balance the 1960 Democratic ticket geographically.

In an attempt to broaden his base, Kennedy named one of his opponents for the Democratic nomination his Vice-President. Lyndon Johnson was older and much more experienced in the Senate. Johnson was from Texas, an obvious attempt by Kennedy to shore up his potential weaknesses in the South. Nixon named Massachusetts Senator Henry Cabot Lodge as his running mate to attack Kennedy in his region of greatest strength.

In such a close contest, every event matters. Many analysts suggest that the decisive battle in the campaign was waged during the televised Presidential debates. Kennedy arrived for the debates well-tanned and well-rested from Florida, while Nixon was recovering from a knee injury he suffered in a tiresome whistle-stop campaign. The Democrat was extremely telegenic and comfortable before the camera. The Republican was nervous, sweated profusely under the hot lights, and could not seem to find a makeup artist that could hide his five o'clock shadow.

Radio listeners of the first debate narrowly awarded Nixon a victory, while the larger television audience believed Kennedy won by a wide margin. When the votes were tallied in November, Kennedy earned 49.7% of the popular vote to Nixon's 49.5%. Kennedy polled only about 100,000 more votes than Nixon out of over 68 million votes cast. The electoral college awarded the election to Kennedy by a 303-219 margin, despite Nixon winning more states than Kennedy.


The Candidates Face Off

On the evening of September 26, when the two candidates arrived at the CBS broadcast facility in downtown Chicago for the first televised presidential debate in American history, Nixon’s streak of bad luck continued. Stepping out of the car, he banged his bad knee and exacerbated his earlier injury. The vice president had recently suffered a bout of the flu and was still running a low fever he had nonetheless spent a grueling day on the campaign trail and looked drained. Kennedy, meanwhile, had been holed up in a hotel with his aides for an entire weekend, fielding practice questions and resting up for the first of four “Great Debates.�spite Nixon’s exhaustion and Kennedy’s preparedness, the Republican and Democrat were more or less evenly matched when it came to substance. Each held forth skillfully and presented remarkably similar agendas. Both emphasized national security, the threat of communism, the need to strengthen the U.S. military and the importance of building a brighter future for America indeed, after Kennedy’s opening statement, Nixon said, “I subscribe completely to the spirit that Senator Kennedy has expressed tonight.” And yet, while most radio listeners called the first debate a draw or pronounced Nixon the victor, the senator from Massachusetts won over the 70 million television viewers by a broad margin.


Television, Religion, and Civil Rights

Both candidates sought the support of the steadily growing suburban population, and for the first time, television became the dominant source of information for voters. Kennedy tried to identify himself with the liberal reform tradition of the Democratic party of Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, promising a new surge of legislative innovation in the 1960s.

JFK hoped to pull together key elements of the Roosevelt coalition of the 1930s—urban minorities, ethnic voting blocs, and organized labor. He also hoped to win back conservative Catholics who had deserted the Democrats to vote for Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956, and to hold his own in the South.

Nixon emphasized the record of the Eisenhower years. He pledged to keep the federal government from dominating the free market economy and the lives of the American people.

In September, John F. Kennedy eloquently confronted the religious issue in an appearance before the Greater-Houston Ministerial Association. He said, "I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute where no Catholic prelate would tell the President—should he be Catholic—how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote." But anti-Catholic feeling remained a wild card in the campaign.

On October 19, Martin Luther King Jr., was arrested in Atlanta for leading a civil rights protest. Supporting King might have cost Kennedy votes in the South. But against the advice of several key campaign strategists, he called Coretta Scott King on October 26 to offer help in securing her husband's safe release. Kennedy was subsequently endorsed by Martin Luther King Sr., father of the civil rights leader. The African-American vote went heavily for Kennedy across the nation, providing the winning margin in several states. As Election Day approached, momentum seemed to be running toward the Kennedy–Johnson ticket.


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President John Fitzgerald Kennedy arrives in Chicago for the O’Hare airport dedication on March 23, 1963. Howard Lyon, Joe Kordick, Bob Kotalik/Chicago Sun-Times

As reported in the Chicago Daily News, sister publication of the Chicago Sun-Times:

The Electoral College solidified former Vice President Joe Biden’s win in the 2020 general election this week. Despite President Trump’s frequent claims, no evidence of widespread voter fraud has been found in swing states such as Georgia or Pennsylvania or any other state, including Illinois.

But in 1960, some irregularities in Illinois votes, specifically the ones in Chicago, prompted calls for an investigation from Republicans over then-Sen. John F. Kennedy’s victory. The saga played out in the pages of the Chicago Daily News.

“Fewer than 100,000 votes out of a total of 69 million cast in the Nov. 8 election may decide whether Vice President Nixon or Sen. Kennedy is to be our nest President,” William Harrison Fetridge, chairman of the Nixon Recount Committee of Illinois, told the Daily News on Dec. 5, 1960.

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Fetridge name-dropped Chicago as one of the cities “where entrenched political machines control the election machinery,” alleging voter fraud. A lawsuit later filed accused Cook County of digging up “Kennedy voters from the cemeteries of Chicago.”

Several weeks later, on Dec. 19, 1960, the Electoral College met to cement Kennedy’s win — 300 electoral votes to Nixon’s 223, though that wasn’t the final total.

“In addition,” the paper reported, “15 unpledged electors from Alabama and Mississippi have decided to vote for Sen. Byrd, the conservative Democrat from Virginia.”

Those same electors urged other Southern electors who didn’t like Kennedy to do the same, the paper said. The overall goal was to kick the election to the House of Representatives where those electors hoped Sen. Byrd would win the election. (It wouldn’t have been the first time the House decided a presidential election.)

In the end, Illinois’ election certification sealed Kennedy’s win, pushing him over the 269 electoral votes needed to clinch the presidency, the Daily News said.

In words that could have been written today, the reporter wrote, “The closeness of the Nov. 8 election turned Monday’s normally cut-and-dried formalities into one of the most unique meetings of the Electoral College in modern history.”

Voter fraud in Cook County certainly wasn’t unheard of at the time (picture it: Cicero, 1924), but did Republicans have a case? According to scholar Edmund F. Kallina’s article in “Presidential Studies Quarterly,” the answer is yes, but also, no. His research found that Nixon was not “cheated out of Illinois’ electoral votes.”

For a deeper dive into the plan of a few Republicans to hijack the Electoral College, check out this report from the Washington Post.


More Comments:

Lawrence Brooks Hughes - 11/15/2010

Nixon also contends in his book that he did not go to court because he did not want to cause a Constitutional crisis, and also because the country would be harmed by a long delay if he did that.

As for Cook County, throughout most of the 20th century the Chicago machine would hold back its totals until downstate Republicans had reported all their votes, in order to see how many they needed to manufacture. I can never believe JFK won Illinois honestly in 1960, any more than I can believe HST was not crooked when he worked for the Prendergast machine in KC.

The West Virginia primary in which JFK beat H. H. Humphrey was also corrupt, by most accounts. Likewise Lyndon B. Johnson's Congressional
victory in Texas by 57 votes, which earned him the sobriquet, "Landslide Lyndon." And Pat Hurley was cheated out of a senate seat in New Mexico.

I had the distinct impression at the time that being Catholic was more of a help than hindrance to JFK. A joke circulated at the time: What's the biggest lie in the world? (There followed three wrong answers such as 'the check is in the mail'). Then, "No," went the punch line, "the biggest lie is I'm Catholic, but I didn't vote for him!"

George E. Rennar - 11/15/2010

According to Theodore White's "The Making of the President 1960," Nixon decided not to mount a voter-fraud challenge because he did not want to cause a Constitutional crisis.
Also, an article some years back in "The Journal of American Studies" analyzed the Cook County results, concluding that the fraud was on behalf of the State's Attorney candidate and that, while there was ome slopover for JFK, it was not enough to make the difference. JFK won Illinois honestly.


Smear tactics

Nixon’s was known for running tough, ruthless campaigns, and the Kennedy team anticipated smear tactics. It acted by publishing a ‘Campaign Sourcebook’ – a condensed set of counter-arguments that, together with the issues of experience and religion, also addressed concerns over Kennedy’s health.

On the latter issue Kennedy had also procured the services of two prominent physicians, who issued a statement declaring that he was fully capable of ‘meeting any obligation of the Presidency without the need for special medical treatment’. At best, this obscured the truth.


Presidential Election – 1960

Nominal GDP (billions of dollars): $526.4 Real GDP (billions of 2005 dollars): $2,830.9 GDP Deflator (index 2005=100%): 18.60 Population (in thousands): 180,760
Nominal GDP per capita (current dollars): $2,912Real GDP per capita (year 2005 dollars): $15,661

Number of Daily Newspapers: 1,763 (1960)

Average Daily Circulation: 58,882,000 (1960)

Households with:

Method of Choosing Electors: Popular vote (mostly General Ticket/Winner Take All)

Method of Choosing Nominees:

Central Issues (Nomination/Primaries):

Leading Candidates (Nomination/Primaries):

Democratic Party candidates

  • John F. Kennedy, U.S. senator (Massachusetts)
  • Lyndon B. Johnson, U.S. Senate Majority Leader (Texas)
  • Stuart Symington, U.S. senator (Missouri)
  • Adlai E. Stevenson, former governor (Illinois)
  • Hubert H. Humphrey, U.S. senator (Minnesota)
  • Richard Nixon, U.S. vice president (California)
  • Nelson Rockefeller, governor of New York
  • Barry Goldwater, U.S. senator (Arizona)

Main Controversies (Nomination/Primaries):

  • Democratic contender John F. Kennedy perceived as too youthful and inexperienced, his Roman Catholic religion anti-Catholic prejudice appeal among non-Catholic voters

Campaign Innovations (Nomination/Primaries):

Major Personalities (Nomination/Primaries):

John F. Kennedy Lyndon Johnson Hubert Humphrey

Turning Points (Nomination/Primaries):

  • Three serious contenders Senators John Kennedy of Massachusetts and Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota, and Lyndon Johnson of Texas
  • Kennedy and Humphrey lacked connection with the party went through te primaries to get delegate support
  • connections with the party’s power brokers.
  • John F. Kennedy participated in 9 primaries won Wisconsin with heavy Catholic vote run against Hubert Humphrey in West Virginia, heavily Protestant population won with over 60% of the vote, proved appeal beyond Catholic electorate
  • Kennedy traveled the country persuading various state delegates to support him. When the convention opened, Kennedy was still missing a few dozen votes to garner the nomination
  • Party “Favorite sons” Lyndon B. Johnson, Stuart Symington, and
  • Adlai E. Stevenson did not campaign in the primaries they hoped to garner the nomination by becoming the “compromise” candidates after the primary contenders do not gain enough delegates to capture the nomination.
  • Stevenson hoped for the nomination but after two failed campaigns, the party was looking for a “fresh Face”
  • Lyndon B. Johnson, and Adlai Stevenson II, officially announced their candidacies (working privately previously) the week before the convention
  • Johnson challenged Kennedy a televised debate before a joint meeting of the Texas and Massachusetts delegations, which Kennedy won, demonstrating Johnson was not viable beyond the South
  • Liberals who would have supported Stevenson already were pledged to Kennedy by the time Stevenson announced his candidacy
  • The two most serious contenders for the nomination were Vice President Richard Nixon and New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller
  • Nixon considered a good campaigner, campaigned for the party for years
  • Rockefeller had an exploratory tour in 1959, but did not continue pursuing the nomination

Primaries Quotations:

  • “I’m not running for vice president, I’m running for president.”John F. Kennedy
  • “Do not reject this man. Do not leave this prophet without honor in his own party.” Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy

Democratic Party: Jul 01, 1960

  • John Fitzgerald Kennedy: 1,847,259, 31.43%
  • Edmund G. “Pat” Brown: 1,354,031, 23.04%
  • George H. McLain: 646,387, 11.00%
  • Hubert Horatio Humphrey, Jr.: 590,410, 10.05%
  • George A. Smathers: 322,235, 5.48%
  • Michael V. DiSalle: 315,312, 5.36%
  • Unpledged: 241,958, 4.12%

Republican Party: Jul 01, 1960

  • Richard Milhous Nixon: 4,975,938, 86.63%
  • Unpledged: 314,234, 5.47%
  • George H. Bender: 211,090, 3.68%
  • Cecil Underwood: 123,756, 2.15%
  • James M. Lloyd: 48,461, 0.84%
  • Nelson A. Rockefeller: 30,639, 0.53%
  • Frank R. Beckwith: 19,677, 0.34%

Conventions (Dates & Locations):

  • Democratic National Convention: July 11-15, 1960, Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena Los Angeles, Leroy Collins (Florida), 1 st ballot, John F. Kennedy (Massachusetts), Lyndon B. Johnson (Texas)
  • Republican National Convention: July 25-28, 1960, International Amphitheatre Chicago, 1st ballot, Richard M. Nixon (California), Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. (Massachusetts)

Convention Turning Points:

Democratic National Convention:

  • Johnson was unable to collect enough delegate support with his negotiations as a Southerner during the civil rights movement, Johnson’s sectionalism hindered a possible candidacy
  • Kennedy had more delegate support going into the convention, but not enough to garner the nomination
  • Stop-Kennedy drive delegates considered Adlai Stevenson as a compromise candidate
  • Kennedy asked Johnson who had run against him to be his running mates, liberals believed Kennedy had betrayed his liberal principles by choosing Johnson “This is the kind of political expedient Franklin Roosevelt would never have used — except in the case of John Nance Garner.” Kennedy adviser John Kenneth Galbraith
  • Kennedy chose Johnson to improve the Southern, vote, and he wanted Johnson out of the Senate to make it easier to pass his liberal legislation
  • Robert Kennedy, John Kennedy’s brothers tried to dissuade John son from accepting the nomination, which remained an issue of contention between the two.
  • Johnson accepted and was nominated unanimously
  • Controversy with the civil rights plank Senator Sam J. Ervin Jr. of North Carolina wanted delete several portions initiation of school desegregation 1963 deadline Civil Rights Commission, permanent agency, attorney general’s power to file civil injunctions. Future member of Congress Patsy Mink of Hawaii gave a televised speech before the delegates. Senator Ervin’s motions were defeated
  • Norman Mailer attended the convention and wrote his famous profile of Kennedy, “Superman Comes to the Supermart,” published in Esquire

Republican National Convention:

  • Nixon and Governor Nelson Rockefeller of New York secretly met Rockefeller’s Manhattan apartment to devise the Republican platform “compact of Fifth Avenue”
  • Nixon won all but ten votes on the first ballot
  • Nixon chose Henry Cabot Lodge at his running-mate

Number of Ballots to Choose Nominees:

Democratic Party Nomination

  • John F. Kennedy 806
  • Lyndon Johnson 409
  • Stuart Symington 86
  • Adlai Stevenson 79.5
  • Robert B. Meyner 43
  • Hubert Humphrey 41
  • George A. Smathers 30
  • Ross Barnett 23
  • Herschel Loveless 2
  • Pat Brown 1
  • Orval Faubus 1
  • Albert Rosellini 1

Vice-Presidential nomination (unanimously)

Convention Keynote Speaker:

Convention Quotes:

  • “Do not reject this man. Do not leave this prophet without honor in his own party.” Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy

Nominating Speech Speakers (President):

Party Platform and Issues:

  • Democratic Party: Longest platform ever written national defense, disarmament, civil rights, immigration, foreign aid, the economy, labor and tax reform
  • Republican Party: Strong national defense enforcement of civil rights laws, right to vote, nuclear test ban agreement

General Election Controversies/Issues:

Campaign Innovations (General Election):

  • Presidential debates four televised debates on the issues between Kennedy and Nixon
  • Creation of ad hoc groups to manage advertisement, but give the candidate full control of the ads.

Major Personalities (General Election):

Martin Luther King, Jr. Martin Luther King, Sr. Carroll Newton Ted Rogers


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