Essay, 11 pages (2500 words)

Political issues in the presidential election of 1960 history essay

In this paper, there will be an examination of the main political issues in the presidential election of 1960. This paper will also inform the reader of what influenced voters and factors such as the nation’s and the candidates’ past history, the image of the candidates and priming that took place during this campaign, and also how fraudulent voters had an effect on this election.

To begin, the 1960s are known as the era of youth. Seventy million children from the post-war baby boom became teens and young adults. There was movement away from the conservative 1950’s to a more revolutionary way of thinking. This was a time of change in lifestyles, entertainment, education and laws. The Supreme Court decided that prayer in public schools was unconstitutional. Political arenas and social issue out breaks formed over the chaos of race and a push for equality and black unity. College campuses became the center of debates and protest, from the civil rights movement supporting black activists such as Martin Luther King, Jr. with peaceful protest to Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael representing Black Nationalism and the Black Panther Party. The number of Hispanic Americans tripled during this period to become recognized as the oppressed minority, and the American Indian population who were unemployed formed violent riots.

The Cold War had no definite start date, though it began as WWII was ending in Europe. When the United States dropped atomic bombs on two cities of Japan, it forced the Japanese government to surrender, signifying the end of conflict in the Pacific. The ending of WWII led to United States and the Soviet Union (Russia) engaging in an arms race. The Soviets were unhappy with the United States as their former allies and were unwilling to share ‘ atomic’ technology, thus leaving the United States to use information-gathering techniques otherwise known as spy planes. The 1960s shadowed one of the great embarrassments to the United States that encouraged a marked relapse in its relations with the Soviet Union, the U-2 spy plane episode. An American U-2 spy plane was shot down over the Soviet Union. The United States was forced to admit the plane’s role as a secret surveillance aircraft when the Soviet government beared its remains and surviving pilot. Along with spy, planes there were many other issues the United States had been involved in during this time with other countries (Goldman, Lillian).

At the end of World War II, fears of a communist subversion also heightened as Fidel Castro led the transformation of Cuba into a one party socialist republic and Cuba’s revolutionary government became economically and militarily dependent on the Soviet Union. The Cuban Missile Crisis occurred between the United States, the Soviet Union, and Cuba during the Cold War. In September 1962, the Cuban and Soviet governments placed nuclear missiles in Cuba. When United States military intelligence discovered the weapons, the U. S. government did all it could to ensure the removal of the missiles.

The Space Race was a competition between the United States and the Soviet Union in the exploration of outer space. It involved revolutionary efforts to launch artificial satellites, send man into space, and land him on the moon. The Space Race took place during the Cold War and had its start in the missile-based arms race between the two nations. It effectively began with the Soviet launch of the first Earth-orbiting artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, in 1957 (Goldman, Lillian).

Moreover, the election of 1960 began. The United States presidential election of 1960 marked the end of Dwight D. Eisenhower’s two terms as President. Eisenhower’s Vice President was Richard Nixon, who was now running himself for the Republican nomination, along with New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller and Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater, while the Democrats nominated Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy, Texas Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson, Missouri Senator Stuart Symington, Former governor of Illinois Adlai Stevenson, and Minnesota Senator Hubert Humphrey. The electoral vote was the closest since the election between T. Woodrow Wilson of New Jersey and Charles Hughes of New York in 1916 where Wilson edged out Hughes by a margin of 277 to 254. The electoral vote totals in the election of 1960 were not as close with Kennedy’s 303 to Nixon’s 219 (Carney, Francis M).

In the popular vote, Kennedy’s victory was among the closest ever in American history. Kennedy garnered 49. 7% of the popular vote while Nixon held 49. 6% . However, an election is not based on the popular vote but the electoral vote. The electors actually cast the vote, meaning a president without the popular vote can be elected president. The 1960 election is still of great debate historically among many people as to whether voter fraud in selected states benefited Kennedy’s victory, which was one of the major issues within this election. The election consisted of 531 electoral votes plus the addition of 2 U. S. Senator’s votes and 1 U. S. Representative’s vote from both Alaska and Hawaii.

On January 3 and August 21 of 1959, Alaska and Hawaii were granted statehood allowing the states to participate in their first presidential election. This was merely only one of the ‘ firsts’ during the election. This was also the first election where a candidate carried more than half the states (Nixon with 26) but lost the presidency, and it was the first election in which the four debates were nationally televised which is another major factor resulting to Kennedy’s victory.

Accepting the nomination before a crowd of 75, 000 people in Los Angeles’ Memorial Coliseum, Senator Kennedy introduced (4President Corporation). “ The New Frontier” of the ’60’s. ‘ 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.” This resulted in the Democratic slogan, “ And so, my fellow Americans: Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country”(4President Corporation).

Kennedy’s campaign promises amounted to many as he recognized the nation as having fallen behind the Soviet Union in the Cold War militarily and economically and promised to ‘ get America moving again.’ He recognized the fear of becoming a communist country and promised to fight against it. He identified himself with the liberal form ‘ tradition’ of the Democratic Party of Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman and promised a new surge of legislative innovation in an attempt to win the vote of conservative Catholics and to show he encouraged the civil rights movement. Kennedy supported a higher minimum wage, increased unemployment compensation, a broader federal housing program, and safer working conditions. He assured farmers of a fair share of national income; his surplus food distribution and food-for-peace bills received wide support from both urban and rural organizations. As Senator, Kennedy drafted a 10-point plan to provide older people with housing, medical care, and recreational facilities. He also sponsored a bill to provide for hospital, nursing, and medical care for older citizens (4President Corporation). In addition, as Chairman of the Government Operations Subcommittee, Kennedy guided The Hoover Commission bill, which estimated to ultimately save the taxpayers $4 billion annually (4President Corporation).

Aside from his promises, Kennedy was a member of the Senate Rackets Committee. This committee battled relentlessly to free American labour and management from racketeers, hoodlums, and union busters. Senator Kennedy also spent four years in the military services and fourteen years in Congressional service, thus familiarizing himself with several branches of the U. S. Government (4President Corporation).

Kennedy’s candidacy was controversial because no Roman Catholic had ever been elected president. However, Kennedy was aware of the dangers of mixing religious and political organizations. He strongly promoted the separation of church and state: ‘ It is my firm belief that there should be separation of church and state as we understand it in the United States — that is, that both church and state should be free to operate, without interference from each other in their respective areas of jurisdiction’ (letter to Glenn L. Archer, 23 February 1959).

Also initially criticized by some Democratic Party elders, including former President Harry Truman, Kennedy was viewed as too youthful and inexperienced to be President; these critics suggested that he should agree to be the running mate for a “ more experienced” Democrat. Despite the criticism, Kennedy continued his run for presidency and selected Lyndon Johnson to be his running mate.

In contrast, Kennedy’s opponent Richard Nixon’s campaign promised to campaign in all fifty states; he also pledged to keep the federal government from dominating the free market economy in the lives of the American people. He promised he was not going to join the parade of those who promise to spend more while ignoring the reality of the present situations. He acknowledged that the cost of living was rising and more government spending would only add to inflation, hurting those people it was meant to help. He indicated a budget cut, not increase, and suggested it would be an act of total irresponsibility to promise additional federal billions that were simply not available. Nixon promoted and encouraged tax cuts and presented a plan for economic growth and deficit reduction that appealed to many. Nixon also wanted to make considerable progress toward balancing the federal budget so that millions of Americans could make possible balancing their family budgets and promised to not neglect education (4President Corporation).

Like Kennedy, Nixon had military time. Nixon joined the Navy to serve in World War II, rising to become a lieutenant commander and resigning in 1946. In 1947, he was elected a U. S. Representative. In addition, in 1950 he became a U. S. Senator, where he worked until being selected as Eisenhower’s running mate in 1953, becoming one of the youngest Vice Presidents in American history. This contributed to Nixon’s presidential campaign in 1960, when he chose Henry Cabot Lodge to run as his Vice President (4President Corporation).

Candidates tend to focus their electoral campaigns either on policy issues or on personal images. Social psychologists’ idea of ‘ priming’ stresses a notionally conceivable campaign strategy for treating image and issues as interconnected strategic concerns.

Evidence suggests that Kennedy deliberately used these popular strategies to shape the electorate’s standards for evaluating his personal attributes rather than to win over helpful maximizing voters (The Structure of Electoral Politics 362). Sneaky unclear policy positions and attractive personal images of strength, boldness, competitiveness, honesty, and trustworthiness, project a favourable personal attribute and image. How ever, this is a risky strategy for holding together a party base and attracting wavering voters.

Priming is a way to understand the unification of image and issues in campaign strategies. This process suggests that candidates use popular policy issues to influence the electorate’s standards for evaluating their personal attributes. Priming focuses public attention on certain topics and provides the main basis for evaluation. Because mass media provides individuals with much information, it can be considered a priming stimulus. The message communicated through and by the media during an election significantly influences the attitudes and information that are likely to be retrieved and incorporated into voters’ judgments (Issues, Candidate Image, and Priming 528).

During the Kennedy campaigns, Louis Harris, polling engineer and conductor serving on the Kennedy strategy committee, used inventive public opinion surveys to heighten the interest and skill in using position taking to shape the candidate’s image taking limited information about voter’s policy preferences. Harris devoted a section of his surveys to tracking and analysing the public’s image of Kennedy’s personality and his job performance. Kennedy’s aides carefully tracked their candidate’s image and attempted to identify his perceived personal characteristics that were considered unfavourable. The campaign wanted to identify issues that both appealed to party activists and responded to the concerns of the centrist voters (Issues, Candidate Image, and Priming 529).

The campaign introduced major innovations in terms of number, structure, and political use of opinion polls. Campaigns draw on analysis of individual perceptions and distinctions between availability and accessibility of public information and attitudes. Kennedy’s campaign objective was to use priming to construct an image that would be noticeably different from Nixon’s. They decided to fashion a move- ahead image for Kennedy to demonstrate a large difference between the Republican and Democratic candidates. The campaign used popular policy issues as part of a priming strategy, along with salient accessible issues in order to construct an appealing image of the candidate as competent and caring. Priming is supported in evidence found in records and interviews, as well as in a combination of both interpretive and quantitative analysis (Identifying the Persuasive Effects of Presidential Advertising 960). His campaign polls were based on personal interviews with large representative samples in separate states. Many of the states were polled at multiple occasions. There were sixty-six polls during the primary and general election campaign; twenty-six of them were between September and November, meaning that the polls were bunched into six weeks. The questions ‘ what is the most important problem?’ and ‘ what do you think can be done?’ measure the importance of an issue, which tells how a particular policy area is ranked compared to other issues (Issues, Candidate Image, and Priming 530).

Kennedy cautiously reacted to the area divisions and the public opinion; in terms of the Democratic Party, Kennedy was thoroughly guided by polling on voters’ concerns. His success in using this strategy confirms the role of competitive elections and leadership selection.

Public opinion became more influential during and after the nationally televised debates. The first debate was over domestic issues. Questions were asked of both Nixon and Kennedy to address their position on farm surpluses, expanding welfare programs for schools, teacher salaries, medical care, reducing the federal debt, and their opinion on communist threats to our national security.

An estimated 80 million viewers watched the first debate. TV viewers believed Kennedy had won; he was well rested before the first debate and appeared tanned, confident, and relaxed during the debate. In contrast, Nixon insisted on campaigning until just a few hours before the first debate and had not completely recovered from his hospital stay for his knee injury, thus looking pale and sickly, as well as underweight and tired. Resulting from his refusal to wear makeup for the first debate, his beard stubble showed particularly on the era’s black-and-white TV screens. Radio listeners believed Nixon had won. However, after the debate had ended, polls showed Kennedy moving from a slight shortfall into a slight lead over Nixon (Vancil, David L., and Sue D. Pendell).

The second debate addressed issues dealing with the defence of two small islands off the Chinese mainland named Quemoy and Matsu, civil rights, and the U-2 flight incident. Political observers at the time believed that Nixon had won this debate as well as the third debate, which was also based on the Quemoy and Matsu island problem and questions over the US economy.

The fourth debate was considered the strongest of the four debates by both candidates but was still seen as a draw. This debate focused on nuclear weapon testing and foreign policies (Kraus, Sidney).

On October 2, 1960, during a sit-in in Atlanta, Martin Luther King, Jr. was arrested and sentenced to a four-month term in prison. He was taken to the state prison at Reidsville, Georgia. Presidential candidate John F. Kennedy called Coretta Scott King to express sympathy. Kennedy then contacted Georgia’s Governor Ernest Van diver seeking King’s release from Reidsville Prison. King was released after eight days in jail. This ultimately resulted in Kennedy receiving more black votes and more votes from northern/Midwestern cities. On the contrary, Nixon remained uninvolved in this issue.

Eisenhower was a strong supporter of Nixon throughout the election. He made strong campaigns for Nixon and began a tour on behalf of the Republican candidate over the last ten days before elections, which lead to a boost leaving Nixon and Kennedy at a tie. The support of Eisenhower resulted in rural suburban areas in the Midwest favouring Nixon. Although, when President Eisenhower was asked to give one example of a major idea of Nixon’s that he adopted, his reply was, “ If you give me a week I might think of one. I don’t remember,”(Eleanor Roosevelt, John Kennedy, and the Election of 1960). which ended up damaging Nixon’s campaign.

When regarding fraud in this election, the first issue addressed are the claims made that mobster Giancana had connections with the Kennedy family and is believed to have influenced the election in Illinois and assisted in Kennedy’s defeat of Nixon. Giancana and Kennedy also were believed to be sharing the same mistresses and passing information to each other through her. At the end of the election, Kennedy was also accused of voter fraud in states and counties including Fannin County and Angelina County, Texas, where more votes were casted then registered. Fraudulent voters were accused in Cook County, and Chicago, Illinois, as well.

Kennedy won Hawaii and Illinois; he carried twelve states total, including all northeast and southern states except for North Carolina, Georgia, and Texas. Kennedy also carried California; however, he lost the state to Nixon.

Nixon won California and carried six states, all but three western states including California, and Ohio, which was his biggest victory. Nixon also carried Hawaii, although he ended up losing the state to Kennedy after absentee ballots were counted. Nixon’s campaign staff encouraged a recount in Illinois, Missouri, and New Jersey, but Nixon declined. Eventually Nixon’s chairman challenged eleven stated to be recounted, but the only overturned state was Hawaii. Respectfully, Richard Nixon refused to call for any recounts or investigations, under the sham that such an action might cause a constitutional crisis.

Moreover, influences in the presidential election of 1960 that affected the electoral behaviour consisted of the issues shadowing from World War II, the issues ahead leading into the Cold War and political movements within the nation, the use of priming, and the suspicion of fraud during the election.

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