United States presidential election, 1960

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President Eisenhower was leaving office and his Vice President, Richard Nixon, who had worked hard for the Republican party, was the unchallenged successor. The Democrats were divided between young Massachusetts Senator, John Kennedy, and Texan Senator, Lyndon B. Johnson. When Kennedy won the Democratic nomination he offered Johnson the position as his running mate.

Nixon and Kennedy both campaigned long and hard. Nixon had experience as the Vice President and other advantages, but there were more Democrats in the electorate.

Religion proved a major issue, as Kennedy's strength among Catholics was numerically more powerful than the doubts harbored by many Protestants about the dangers of a president under the control of the Pope in Rome.

Kenedy gained in the live televised Presidential Debates. In the debates Kennedy looked confident and handsome, while Nixon looked pale and out of place. In the book THE MAKING OF THE PRESIDENT 1960 it was revealed that Nixon was recovering from a painful knee injury and re-injured his knee the day of the second debate. This caused him excrutiating pain throughout the evening, and was no doubt responsible for the pale and sweaty appearance he was later lambasted for in the media. The election was still very close, but in the end Kennedy claimed the victory.[1]

Not until the presidential election of 1960 when John Kennedy intervened for the release of Martin Luther King, who was jailed by local Democrats two weeks before the election in Atlanta following a non-violent protest, did the majority of Blacks begin voting Democratic en bloc. His brother, Robert Kennedy, who managed the campaign, opposed the outreach to Black voters and sided with traditional Southern racists of the New Deal coalition.[2] Bobby Kennedy was furious with campaign aides for talking with King, and felt it would cost them the election.

Election Results[3]

candidates popular vote electoral vote
John F. Kennedy 34,220,984 [4] 303
Richard M. Nixon 34,108,157 219
Unpledged electors / Harry F. Byrd 286,359 15 [5]
Others 216,982 0


See also

Further reading

  • Donaldson, Gary A. The First Modern Campaign: Kennedy, Nixon, and the Election of 1960 (2007), the standard scholarly history
  • Matthews, Christopher J. Kennedy and Nixon: The Rivalry That Shaped Postwar America (1997) 400pp, popular history
  • Pietrusza, David. 1960--LBJ vs. JFK vs. Nixon: The Epic Campaign That Forged Three Presidencies (2008), 544 popular history
  • White, Theodore. The Making of the President 1960 (1961), very good reporting


  1. Encyclopedia of Presidents, John F. Kennedy, by Zachary Kent, Children's Press, 1987, pp. 59-63.
  2. Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero, Chris Matthews, Simon and Schuster, Nov 6, 2012, p. 309.
  3. 1960 Presidential Election Results
  4. This number includes the total Democratic vote for Alabama, which state's slate of electors was by prearrangement split, with 5 pledged to Kennedy and 6 unpledged. (The unpledged electors ultimately voted for Harry Byrd.) If the Alabama votes are proportionally allocated between Kennedy and the unpledged slate, Kennedy receives fewer popular votes nationally than Nixon.
  5. Virginia Sen. Harry Byrd received the votes of 8 unpledged electors in Mississippi, 6 unpledged Democratic electors in Alabama, and one "faithless" Nixon elector in Oklahoma.
  6. A Pictoral History of the U.S. Presidents, by Clare Gibson, Gramercy Books, 2001, p. 125.