I’ve intentionally avoided politics so far, but hindsight is a
wonderful way to judge 50-year-old attempts to forecast the future, in
this case, the 1960 presidential election.
Let’s see how George Gallup did with the Democrats.
The front-runner for most of 1957 was Sen. Estes Kefauver of Tennessee,
followed by Sen. John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts, the eventual winner.
Although Kennedy had a slight lead in June, Kefauver began and
ended the year as the top Democratic candidate, according to Gallup.
In February, Kefauver led Kennedy among all Democratic voters 49% to 38%,
Gallup said. (Among Republicans, Vice President Richard Nixon outpolled Sen. William F.
Knowland of California 63% to 23%). The problem with Kennedy, Gallup
found, was that he did not have national prominence–26% of Democrats
said they didn’t know who he was.
In June, the two men traded places, with Kennedy over Kefauver 50% to
39%. Gallup again found that Kennedy lacked national recognition–among
Democrats, 28% didn’t know who Kennedy was.
By August, however, Kefauver was back on top, although by a closer
margin (Kefauver 29% to Kennedy’s 23%). The remaining six candidates
- Sen. Lyndon Johnson of Texas, 8%
- Gov. Frank Clement of Tennessee, 6%
- Sen. Stuart Symington of Missouri, 5%
- Sen. Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota, 5%
- Gov. G. Mennen Williams of Michigan, 4%
- Gov. Edmund S. Muskie of Maine, 2%
More important, Kennedy and Kefauver were almost evenly matched among independent voters (25% vs. 24%), Gallup found.
Although Kefauver led Kennedy 26% to 19% in November, the ultimate tests, at least for our purposes, came in August 1957.
Kennedy easily defeated Knowland in a hypothetical presidential race, 51% to 37%, Gallup found.
As for a hypothetical race against Nixon, Kennedy was the winner 48% to
43%, Gallup found. And as Gallup noted, Nixon prevailed slightly in
every part of the country except the South, which handed Kennedy a huge
margin of 64% to 25%.
The popular vote, as reported by The Times on Nov. 11, 1960:
50.2% for Kennedy, 49.8% for Nixon. It was the closest election since
1888, The Times said.
To be continued…