Presidential Election – 1960



1960 Presidential Campaign

Edited & Compiled by Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

Source: The History of American Presidential Elections, 1789-2008, Facts on File, 2011


Election Year: 1960

Election Day Date: November 8, 1960

Winning Ticket:

  • John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Democratic 34,220,984 49.72% 303 56.4%

Losing Ticket(s):

  • Richard Nixon, Henry Lodge, Republican 34,108,157 49.55% 219 40.8%
  • Unpledged Electors-Democratic 286,359 0.42% 15 2.8%
  • Other (+) – – 216,982 0.32% 0 0.0%
  • Voter Turnout: 109,159,000 68,838,204 63.06%

Central Forums/Campaign Methods for Addressing Voters:

Speaking tour; radio; television; televised Presidential debates;

Election Law/Campaign Finance Changes:

Incumbent President and Vice President on Election Day:

Dwight David Eisenhower Richard Milhous Nixon Republican 1953-1961

Population: 1960: 180,760,000

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:

  • Radio 48,504,000 (1960)
  • Television 46,312,000 (1960)

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

Method of Choosing Nominees:

  • National party convention;
  • Presidential preference primaries

Central Issues (Nomination/Primaries):

  • 22nd amendment prevented popular President Dwight Eisenhower from seeking a third term

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)

Republican Party

  • 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):  

  • Televised Primary debate (Johnson and Kennedy)

Major Personalities (Nomination/Primaries):

John F. Kennedy; Lyndon Johnson; Hubert Humphrey

Turning Points (Nomination/Primaries):

Democratic Party:

  • 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

Republican Party:

  • 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 16, 38.3 % delegates
  • Republican 15, 38.6 % delegates

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), 1st 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)

  • Johnson 1,521 votes

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:

  • Youth vs. Experience; religion/Catholicism issue

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;

Campaign Tactics:

Democratic Party:

  • Main theme of the campaign was America’s “decline” under the Republican administration; attempted to undercut Nixon’s accusations that he was inexperienced
  • Stumping, over 200 television commercials

Republican Party:

  • Nixon pledged to campaign in all 50 states, in order to attract independents, Democrats; most grueling campaign schedule in history however, he in August he had a knee infection, which kept him hospitalized for two weeks, and although his advisors wanted him to abandon his pledge, he insisted in continuing
  • Nixon campaigned as a more experienced and known candidate, minimized party labels in speeches, and emphasized voters should pick the pick the better man
  • Formed ad hoc groups to manage advertisement, named it Campaign Associates.


  • September 26, 1960 Presidential Debate in Chicago
  • October 7, 1960 Presidential Debate in Washington, DC
  • October 13, 1960 Presidential Debate Broadcast from New York and Los Angeles
  • October 21, 1960 Presidential Debate in New York
  • The four televised Presidential debates, Nixon campaigned up to a few hours prior to the telecast of the first debate, and still had not fully recovered, looked pale,  emaciated and with his stumble showing because he refused make-upKennedy in contrast rested prior to the debate appeared more rested. Kennedy spoke to the audience while Nixon addressed his opponent.
  • The difference in appearances in the candidates affected the public’s perception. Those who watched the debate, named Kennedy the winner, the radio audience albeit smaller named Nixon the winner; Nixon abided the rules of television for the next debates (gained weight, rested, wore make-up), however, only a fraction of the amount of viewers watched the remaining debates. 70,000,000 viewed the first debate, but a combined total of approximately 50,000,000 watched the remaining three debates
  • Kennedy won the first debate; Nixon won the second and third debates; in the fourth both candidates performed their strongest and it was considered a tie
  • More important were the four televised debates between the two contenders, the first such confrontations in history. Kennedy appeared just as confident, and the experienced equal to Vice President Nixon

Turning Points (General Election):

  • Nixon would campaigned as the more experienced candidate in domestic and foreign policies in comparison to Kennedy’s “youth and immaturity”; “After each of my foreign trips, I have made recommendations which were adopted. . . “
  • President Eisenhower undercut Nixon’s experience claim when reporter Charles Mohr of Time asked the President during a press conference which major decision Nixon had been involved in and Eisenhower responded, “If you give me a week, I might think of one.” Eisenhower supposedly made the comment as joke, but was so damaging the Democrats used in a campaign commercial
  • Religion/Catholicism issue circulation of anti-Catholic tracts
  • September 12, 1960, John F. Kennedy’s speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association attempted to diffuse the religion issue, The televised address assured many Protestant voters, but did not completely extinguish the issue
  • On October 19, two days before the final debate between Democratic candidate John F. Kennedy and Republican candidate Vice President Richard Nixon, civil-rights leader Martin Luther King was arrested. King was jailed along with 52 other blacks who were trying to desegregate a Georgia restaurant. He was sentenced to four months of hard labor based on breaking probation.
  • King’s wife, Coretta, was frantic and called Harris Wofford, a Kennedy campaign aide , claiming that “they are going to kill him [King].” Wofford contacted Sargent Shriver, who was married to Kennedy’s sister Eunice. Shriver convinced Kennedy that he should telephone King’s wife, which he did, expressing his concern.
  • Robert Kennedy, the candidate’s brother negotiated with the judge and secured a promise that King would be released on bail.
  • In contrast, Nixon consulted with Eisenhower’s attorney general, who advised him not to intervene in the matter. The Kennedys’ intervention gained JFK support from blacks, including King’s father, an influential minister who had previously supported Nixon.
  • Middle of October George Gallup predicted a close election, refused to forecast results. Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News and World Report though Kennedy would have win by a good margin.
  • President Eisenhower, who had largely sat out the campaign, made a vigorous campaign tour for Nixon over the last 10 days before the election. (Eisenhower’s support gave Nixon a badly needed boost, and by election day the polls indicated a virtual tie)

Popular Campaign Slogans:


  • “Kennedy: Leadership for the ’60s”
  • “For America’s Greatness”
  • “A Time for Greatness”
  • campaign theme “We Can Do Better”


  • “Nixon-Lodge: They Understand What Peace Demands”
  • “Peace, Experience, Prosperity”
  • “American Needs Nixon-Lodge: Side by Side Our Strongest Team”
  • “Experience counts”

Campaign Song:

  • Democratic: John F. Kennedy: “High Hopes” “Marching Down to Washington”

Influential Campaign Appeals or Ads:

  • Democratic Party: 200 commercials varied; Mrs. JFK, where Jackie Kennedy spoke in Spanish to the voters; Harry Belfonte, trying to drum up the African-American vote
  • Republican Party: Ad series where Nixon seated in an office who be asked a question on policy and Nixon answered showing his superior policy/leadership  experience

Money Spent (Each Campaign/Party/Overall):

Defining Quotation (Winning Candidate):

  • “I am not the Catholic candidate for President. I am the Democratic Party’s candidate for President who also happens to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my Church on public matters — and the Church does not speak for me.” John F. Kennedy to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association on September 12, 1960
  • “The problems are not all solved and the battles are not all won. We stand today on the edge of a New Frontier, the frontier of the 1960s, a frontier of unknown opportunities and perils, a frontier of unfulfilled hopes and threats.” John F. Kennedy Democratic Presidential nomination acceptance speech,
  • “The Vice-President and I came to Congress in 1946, I’ve been there for fourteen years, the same period of time that he has, so that our experience in government is comparable.”… “Mr. Nixon is experienced, experienced in policies of retreat, defeat, and weakness” John F. Kennedy in response to Nixon’s charges that he was inexperienced
  • “a race between the comfortable and the concerned, a race between those who want to be at anchor and those who want to go forward.” John F. Kennedy
  • “To all Americans I say that the next four years are going to be difficult and challenging years for us all that a supreme national effort will be needed to move this country safely through the 1960s. I ask your help and I can assure you that every degree of my spirit that I possess will be devoted to the long range interest of the United States and to the cause of freedom around the world.” John F. Kennedy
  • “I think it well, that we recall what happened to a great governor when he became a Presidential nominee. Despite his successful record as governor, despite his plain-spoken voice, the campaign was a debacle. His views were distorted. He carried fewer states than any candidate in his party’s history. To top it off, he lost his own state that he had served so well as a governor. You all know his name and his religion — Alfred M. Landon, Protestant.”   John F. KennedyAlfred E. Smith memorial dinner in New York, 1959

Defining Quotation (Losing Candidate):

  • “I’m getting sick and tired of hearing this constant whimpering and yammering and wringing of the towel with regard to the poor United States.” Richard Nixon in response to Kennedy’s “get this country moving again” slogan

Campaign Quotations:

  • “I’ve got a suitcase of votes, and I’m going to take them to Mr. Kennedy and dump them in his lap.” Martin Luther King Sr. referring to  Democratic nominee John F. Kennedy

Elections Issues:

  • Debate as to whether there was voter theft in certain states
  • Just before midnight on election night, The New York Times headline their morning edition “Kennedy Elected President” The Times managing editor Turner Catledge wrote in his memoirs that he hoped “a certain Midwestern mayor would steal enough votes to pull Kennedy through.” The Times wanted to avoid the embarrassment the Chicago Tribune endured in 1948, when they announced Dewy won over Truman
  • Nixon made a speech at 3am, but did not entirely concede, was not a formal concession speech. Only on Wednesday, November 9 in the afternoon did Nixon give a formal concession speech, and Kennedy claimed victory
  • Republicans, Nixon and Eisenhower thought voter fraud was involved in the slim margin of victory, especially in Texas, Lyndon Johnson’s home state, and Illinois, Mayor Richard Daley’s powerful Chicago political machine. The electoral votes from those two states determined the outcome of the election
  • Nixon’s campaign staff wanted him to contest the election especially in Illinois, Missouri and New Jersey contests. Three days later, Nixon gave a speech that he would not contest the election
  • Republican National Chairman, Senator Thruston Morton of Kentucky challenged the results in 11 states, which remained in the courts until summer of 1961, and resulted in a recount giving Hawaii over to Kennedy from Nixon;s column

Further Reading: 

  • Donaldson, Gary. The First Modern Campaign: Kennedy, Nixon, and the Election of 1960. Rowman & Littlefield, 2007.

Significant books from the campaign: 

White, Theodore H. (1961). The Making of the President, 1960.

Lasting Legacy of Campaign:

  • John F. Kennedy first Roman Catholic elected President, remains only voted to the Presidency
  • Closest electoral vote margin, closest ever-popular vote, debate remains as whether there was vote theft in certain states aided assuring Kennedy’s victory.
  • first presidential election which Alaska and Hawaii participated, granted statehood on January 3 and August 21, 1959
  • First election where both candidates for president were born in the 20th century, Nixon in 1911, Kennedy in 1917
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