Kennedy Basked in Public Approval

Americans were much more satisfied with their leaders 50 years ago.

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Today is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. This article is one of a series of blogs this week in which I analyze key aspects of the Kennedy era and assess what it means for us today.

One reason that President Kennedy enjoyed so much popularity while in office is that the United States was a more optimistic and confident place during the Kennedy years than it is now, and Americans were more willing to rally around their leader and trust his judgment.

"The mood of America then had few parallels with the modern era," said Andrew Kohut, founding director of the Pew Research Center, in a column this week on the Pew website. The America of 1963 was "upbeat," and looking ahead to the future, Kohut added.

Kohut points out that the results of Gallup polls at the time were striking. At the start of 1963, despite the nerve-rattling confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union in the Cuban Missile Crisis the previous year, 82 percent of Americans predicted that their country's power would increase in 1963. And 63 percent said the West could eventually form a peaceful relationship with the USSR.

President Kennedy announces the U.S. will send an American to the Moon before the end of the decade in his May 25, 1961, speech before a joint session of Congress. The announcement came 20 days after Alan Shepard became the first American to successfully travel into space. (NASA)
President Kennedy announces the U.S. will send an American to the Moon before the end of the decade in his May 25, 1961, speech before a joint session of Congress. The announcement came 20 days after Alan Shepard became the first American to successfully travel into space. (NASA)

[SPECIAL REPORT: JFK, 50 Years Later]

Sixty-four percent said local business conditions would be good throughout 1963, and 68 percent said they were satisfied with their own income. Fifty percent said Kennedy had kept his promises to stimulate economic growth and only 37 percent said he hadn't.

In March, 74 percent expected Kennedy to be re-elected in 1964, and he was supported by 67 percent of Americans over Republican challenger and eventual GOP nominee Barry Goldwater, who had the support of only 27 percent.

Kennedy's job approval rating reached 70 percent in February 1963 but declined to 59 percent in October, which Kohut attributed to the opposition of Southern white voters upset with Kennedy's support for the civil rights movement. Still, 59 percent was a very high rating that Kennedy's successors would have been very pleased to have.

President Obama's job approval rating today has dropped below 40 percent amid polls showing that the overwhelming majority of Americans believe the country is on the wrong track.

More News:

  • Obama and Clinton Visit John F. Kennedy's Eternal Flame
  • Photos: John and Jackie Kennedy
  • Where Were You When JFK Was Assassinated?
  • Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He is the author of the new book "Prisoners of the White House. He can be reached at kwalsh@usnews.com and followed on Facebook and Twitter.