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Distribution of votes in the 1960 US presidential election

The 1960 US presidential election was the first to take place in all fifty states (although not Washington DC), and the first time where the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution prevented the incumbent president from running for a third term in office. The race was contested between John F. Kennedy of the Democratic Party, and incumbent Vice President Richard Nixon of the Republican Party. Kennedy defeated future-President Lyndon B. Johnson in the Democratic National Convention and asked Johnson to serve as his running mate, while Nixon won the Republican nomination comfortably, despite an early challenge from Nelson Rockefeller. This campaign is also notable for being the first to use televised debates between the candidates, including one that used split-screen technology, allowing the candidates to speak live from opposite sides of the country.


Early in the campaign, both candidates were vibrant and charismatic, and garnered a loyal follower base. Kennedy spent most of his campaign criticizing the previous administration for falling behind the Soviet Union in terms of the military, economy and the space race, while Nixon highlighted the achievements made by Eisenhower's administration, and promised to build on them. Most historians agree that Kennedy's campaign was more structured and used better tactics than Nixon's, by canvassing heavily in swing states and districts instead of giving equal attention to all parts of the country (as Nixon did), with Kennedy focusing on metropolitan areas while Johnson canvassed in the south. Nixon's campaign was also more prone to mistakes, such as not preparing and refusing make-up for televised debates (making him look ill), while his running mate promised to elect African-Americans to the cabinet, however this just alienated black voters who were ambivalent in their reaction. Kennedy's connection with Martin Luther King Jr. also helped him to take a much larger share of the black vote than his opponent.

Results and Controversy

The popular vote was split by fewer than 120,000 out of seventy million votes. Kennedy took 49.7 percent of the popular vote, while Nixon took 49.5 percent. Nixon, however took more states than Kennedy, carrying 26 to Kennedy's 22, but Kennedy's tactical campaigning paid off, as his 22 states returned 303 electoral votes to Nixon's 219. Unpledged Democratic electors in the south gave 15 electoral votes to Harry F. Byrd, as they opposed Kennedy's stance on civil rights. Due to the close nature of the results, many Republicans called for recounts and accused the Kennedy campaign of cheating or committing voter fraud. For example, they highlighted that more votes were cast in certain districts of Texas (Johnson's home state) than the number of registered voters, and when Nixon lost Illinois despite winning 92 out of 101 counties, many suggested a link between the Kennedy campaign and organized crime syndicates in Chicago (also alluded to in Scorsese's 2019 film "The Irishman"). These claims have subsequently been proven to be false, and historians generally agree that Kennedy's campaigning methods and Nixon's wastefulness won Kennedy the election. John F. Kennedy was subsequently named the 35th President of the United States, and is remembered favorably as one of the most popular and charismatic leaders in US history. Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963, less than three years into his first term, and was succeeded by his Vice President, Lyndon B. Johnson.

Share of electoral college* and popular votes** in the 44th US presidential election in 1960

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Release date



United States

Survey time period


Supplementary notes

*Actual number of electoral votes:
John F. Kennedy - 303
Richard Nixon - 219
Harry F. Byrd - 15

**Actual number of popular votes:
John F. Kennedy - 34,226,731
Richard Nixon - 34,108,157
Harry F. Byrd - 0

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