Tags: President | John F Kennedy | Polls | Surveys

JFK's Popularity Endures: John F. Kennedy Remains High in Presidential Polls, Surveys

By    |   Monday, 11 Aug 2014 04:20 PM

No other U.S. president has had such enduring popularity after such a short term in office as John F. Kennedy.

Historians tend to rate JFK as a good president, but not a great one, Columbia University historian Alan Brinkley noted in The Atlantic. But Americans consistently give him the highest approval rating of any president since FDR.

Todd J. Gillman of The Dallas Morning News observed that "historians rate Kennedy as a middling president. The public puts him on a pedestal with Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt. His loving image has survived tawdry revelations and bookshelves of critical reassessments."

In a series of polls conducted since 1982, the 35th president's highest ranking was No. 6, by C-SPAN in 2009, and his lowest was No. 18 in a Wall Street Journal poll in 2000. His average over 15 polls surveyed was No. 11.

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Yet his popularity among ordinary Americans is well demonstrated by the nearly 350,000 people each year who visit the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas, where Lee Harvey Oswald waited to shoot a president who had served just 34 months in office.

Kennedy's presidency was extraordinary from the very beginning. He was the youngest man ever elected to the White house at 43 and the first Roman Catholic president, as well as the first president to have engaged in a televised national debate. He took office after winning one of the closest presidential races of the 20th century, beating Republican Richard Nixon by only two-tenths of a percentage point in the popular vote.

Just three months into his term, in April 1961, Kennedy ordered what became known as the Bay of Pigs Invasion of Cuba, and the CIA sent 1,500 U.S.-trained Cubans to the communist island. But Kennedy pulled air support at the last minute, and the mission became a humiliating fiasco.

In the following year came the pivotal event in JFK's presidency: the Cuban missile crisis.

In October 1962, spy planes took photographs showing that the Soviet Union was building ballistic missile sites in Cuba. Most of JFK's military advisers believed the United States should bomb the missile sites, but Kennedy was wary about escalating the crisis and instead ordered a blockade of Soviet ships.

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"This was the most dangerous moment in recorded history," declared Graham Allison, a national security expert at Harvard's Kennedy School of government, as the two nations appeared on the brink of nuclear war.

But in the end the Soviets agreed to dismantle the sites in return for a U.S. promise never to invade Cuba and the removal of obsolete American missiles in Turkey.

"At the end of the day, the missiles weren't in Cuba and there was no nuclear war," said Allison.

The crisis overshadowed other workings of the JFK administration. Kennedy cut taxes, founded the Peace Corps, sent federal troops to force integration at the University of Mississippi, and vowed in 1961 that America would land a man on the moon within a decade, a feat that was ultimately accomplished in 1969.

The final chapter in JFK's history came on Nov. 22, 1963, when Kennedy was assassinated during a political trip to Dallas. He was 46 years old. Oswald was arrested and charged with the crime, but he was killed by Jack Ruby two days later. The Warren Commission officially concluded that Oswald was the lone assassin.

As to his enduring popularity, historian H.W. Brands said, "Kennedy didn't grow old. He reminds us of our youth and the possibilities of youth."

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No other U.S. president has had such enduring popularity after such a short term in office as John F. Kennedy. Historians tend to rate JFK as a good president, not a great one, but Americans consistently give him the highest approval rating of any president since FDR.
President, John F Kennedy, Polls, Surveys
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2014-20-11
Monday, 11 Aug 2014 04:20 PM
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