The 1960 US Presidential Election

Inspired by a Final Question: The 1960 US Presidential Election

Recently at Sporcle Pub Quiz and Stump trivia nights, we asked the following Final Question: What two candidates received the vast majority of electoral votes in the first U.S. presidential election in which all 50 states participated? We love questions like this that have multiple angles required before getting to the correct answer. The answer was John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon. The 1960 election followed Alaska and Hawaii joining the Union. We decided to take a deeper look at that election with some bonus fun facts at the end.

The 1960 US Presidential election was a historic and closely contested race between Republican Vice President Richard Nixon and Democratic Senator John F. Kennedy. The election was notable for its televised debates, which were a new and influential factor in American politics.

The Candidates

Richard Nixon had served as Vice President under President Dwight D. Eisenhower for eight years before running for President in 1960. Nixon was seen as a strong and experienced candidate, but he was also viewed as cold and unapproachable.

John F. Kennedy, on the other hand, was a charismatic and energetic young senator from Massachusetts. Kennedy’s youth and vigor appealed to a generation of Americans who were looking for change and a break from the old ways of politics.

The Campaign

The 1960 Presidential campaign was one of the closest and most intense in American history. Both candidates traveled extensively around the country, holding rallies and giving speeches to large crowds.

One of the key moments of the campaign was the televised debates between Nixon and Kennedy. The first debate, which was held on September 26, 1960, was watched by an estimated 70 million people – the largest audience for a political event in American history at the time.

The debates were a major turning point in the campaign, as they gave viewers a chance to see the candidates up close and evaluate their personalities and abilities. Kennedy was widely seen as the winner of the debates, with his calm and confident demeanor contrasting sharply with Nixon’s nervous and sweaty appearance.

The Results

The election was held on November 8, 1960, and the results were extremely close. Kennedy won with 49.7% of the popular vote and 303 electoral votes, while Nixon received 49.5% of the popular vote and 219 electoral votes.

Kennedy’s victory was particularly significant because he was the first Catholic to be elected President of the United States. His win was seen as a major breakthrough for Catholics in American politics, who had long faced discrimination and suspicion.

Fun Trivia Facts

  • The 1960 Presidential election was the first to feature televised debates between the candidates. The debates were a major factor in the election, and they helped to establish television as a crucial tool for political campaigning.
  • The Kennedy campaign spent an unprecedented $9 million on television advertising during the 1960 election. This was more than any previous Presidential campaign, and it reflected the growing importance of television in American politics.
  • The 1960 election was the closest Presidential election since 1916. Kennedy won by just 0.2% of the popular vote, and his victory in the electoral college was also relatively narrow.
  • The Kennedy campaign used a song called “High Hopes” as its theme song during the 1960 election. The song became a hit, and it was later used by other Democratic candidates in subsequent elections.
  • Kennedy was the first President to hold a press conference on live television. His first press conference, which was held on January 25, 1961, was watched by an estimated 65 million people.