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Inklings of Camelot

August 11, 2007 |  5:41 am
1957_0811_hed

1957_kennedy_lawford Aug. 11, 1957
Princeton, N.J.

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 were:

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...

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