W. Joseph Campbell

Posts Tagged ‘Presidential debates’

NYTimes review offers up myth about radio listeners and the 1960 debate

In Debunking, Error, Media myths, Media myths and radio, Television on March 16, 2015 at 9:08 am
Kennedy and Nixon_1960

Kennedy, Nixon at the debate

Because he looked poised and confident, it is often said that television viewers felt Senator John F. Kennedy won the first-ever U.S. presidential debate in 1960.

Radio listeners, perhaps put off by Kennedy’s New England accent, thought his Republican foe, Vice President Richard M. Nixon, performed better.

The notion there was marked disagreement among viewers and listeners is dubious but hardy — and it popped up yesterday in the New York Times, in a review of an art exhibition at Hofstra University Museum.

The exhibition includes, the review said, a “video clip from the televised presidential debate between Vice President Nixon and Senator John F. Kennedy in 1960,” a clip that “seems to show the handsome, youthful Kennedy trouncing a visibly sweating Nixon. (Those who caught the debate on the radio thought Nixon trumped Kennedy.)”

Well, not really: There’s no solid, persuasive evidence to support the notion that radio listeners felt that Nixon had “trumped” Kennedy, or that listeners sharply disagreed with television viewers about who did better in the debate, which took place in Chicago on September 26, 1960.

That there must have been such an effect is appealing on many levels, notably because it suggests that appearance can trump substance in politics.

But the notion of viewer-listener disagreement in the 1960 debate is a media myth — a media myth that endures despite being thoroughly dismantled nearly 30 years ago in research published by scholars David L. Vancil and Sue D. Pendell.

In an article in Central States Speech Journal  in 1987, Vancil and Pendell pointed out that accounts of viewer-listener disagreement about the debate typically were anecdotal and hardly representative of the American electorate in 1960.Screen Shot 2015-03-15 at 11.35.11 PM

They also called attention to “a false impression” that “major polling organizations, such as Gallup, concentrated part of their attention on the reactions of radio listeners.” That hardly was the case.

The one polling organization that did identify radio listeners in a post-debate survey was Sindlinger & Co.

Sindlinger reported that poll respondents who listened to the debate on radio thought Nixon won, by a 2-to-1 margin.

But the Sindlinger sub-sample of radio listeners included 282 respondents. Of that number, only 178 offered an opinion about the debate winner, which was far too few to permit meaningful generalizations or conclusions, Vancil and Pendell noted.

Not only was the sub-sample unrepresentative, it did not identify from where the sub-sample of radio listeners was drawn. “A location bias in the radio sample,” Vancil and Pendell pointed out, “could have caused dramatic effects on the selection of a debate winner. A rural bias, quite possible because of the relatively limited access of rural areas to television in 1960, would have favored Nixon.”

Those and other defects render the Sindlinger result meaningless.

Vancil and Pendell’s article also questioned the notion that Nixon’s haggard and sweaty appearance during the debate was necessarily decisive to views about who won the encounter.

“Appearance problems, such as Nixon’s perspiring brow, could have had a negative impact on viewer perceptions,” they wrote, “but it is also possible for viewers to be sympathetic to such problems, or to interpret them as evidence of attractive or desirable qualities.”

They added: “Even if viewers disliked Nixon’s physical appearance, the relative importance of this factor is a matter of conjecture.”

It is important to note that a good deal of post-debate commentary declared the Kennedy-Nixon encounter — the first of four debates during the 1960 campaign — to have been a draw, or nearly so.

For example, James Reston, then the Washington bureau chief for the New York Times, wrote:

“Who took the first round is a matter of individual opinion. My own view is that Kennedy gained more than Nixon, but it was a fielder’s choice, settling nothing.”

Writing in the old New York Herald Tribune, columnist John Crosby stated:

“I think Kennedy outpointed Nixon. I think it was a close fight and perhaps a disappointing one. … Both candidates were awfully cautious, as if they’d been warned that a mistake could cost them the whole prize.”

The Washington Post saw it another way, stating in a post-debate editorial:

“Of the two performances, Mr. Nixon’s was probably the smoother. He is an accomplished debater with a professional polish, and he managed to convey a slightly patronizing air of a master instructing a pupil.”

Right after the Kennedy-Nixon encounter, the Associated Press news service conducted an unscientific survey of 100 Americans in 10 major U.S. cities and reported finding that most respondents said they weren’t influenced by the exchanges.

“Only a few persons,” the AP reported, “said they had actually switched from one candidate to the other because of the debate.”

A Gallup poll taken in the week after the debate and released October 11, 1960, reported that 43 percent of voters thought Kennedy “did the better job” in the debate; 23 percent thought Nixon was better, and 29 percent said both candidates were about the same. Five percent offered no opinion.

The survey, moreover, detected no marked, post-debate shift of support to Kennedy. The survey reported Kennedy to be narrowly ahead, by 49 percent to 46 percent, with 5 percent undecided.

“The prudent reader can see,” wrote George Gallup, the head of the polling organization, in reporting those results, that polling “has not reached the degree of accuracy required to say with certainty which candidate is ahead in a close race such as the present one.”

Kennedy narrowly won the election, receiving 49.72 percent of the popular vote to Nixon’s 49.55 percent.

WJC

More from Media Myth Alert:

 

Debates are over, media myth lives on

In Debunking, Media myths on October 28, 2012 at 12:05 pm

The runup to the three presidential debates this month inevitably was accompanied by references to the 1960 encounter between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon — and to references to the media myth distorts understanding of the historic confrontation 52 years ago.

Debates are over, myth lives on

Even days after the final debate between President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney, the 1960 debate myth still swirls.

The myth has it that television viewers thought Kennedy won the first debate of that campaign while radio listeners believed Nixon prevailed.

It’s a dubious bit of political lore that long ago became a defining feature of that debate. And it lives on as a reminder about how appearances supposedly trump substance in American presidential politics.

The notion of viewer-listener disagreement in the first Kennedy-Nixon debate is implausible for several reasons, including the absence of representative polling data that confirmed such a disparity.

What likely was more decisive than appearance in that debate was Nixon’s willingness to be conciliatory, to concur with Kennedy. In his opening statement, Nixon seemed to second the points raised by Kennedy, who had spoken first.

Nixon said:

“The things that Senator Kennedy has said many of us can agree with. … There is no question but that this nation cannot stand still; because we are in a deadly competition, a competition not only with the men in the Kremlin, but the men in Peking. We’re ahead in this competition, as Senator Kennedy, I think, has implied. But when you’re in a race, the only way to stay ahead is to move ahead. And I subscribe completely to the spirit that Senator Kennedy has expressed tonight, the spirit that the United States should move ahead.”

But in discussing the debate more than 50 years later, it’s far easier to reach for the myth of viewer-listener disagreement than it is to recall Nixon’s ill-advised tactics.

This was suggested in a lengthy commentary about the Obama-Romney debates, posted the other day at the online site of the liberal American Prospect political magazine.

The commentary invoked the first Kennedy-Nixon debate in stating:

“As for wishing these suckers were serious policy discussions, I can’t think of a single presidential debate that’s ever been decided on those grounds. Even in 1960, when the jousting between Kennedy and Nixon was relatively substantive, JFK triumphed purely on image, one proof being that people who only heard their confrontations on radio famously thought Nixon had cleaned his clock.”

The commentary offered no evidence to support the claim of clock-cleaning-on-the-radio.

That’s because there is no persuasive, contemporaneous evidence to that effect.

The notion of viewer-listener disagreement was demolished in a journal article published 25 years ago by scholars David L. Vancil and Sue D. Pendell.

Their article, published in Central States Speech Journal, noted that accounts of viewer-listener disagreement about the Kennedy-Nixon debate invariably were anecdotal and impressionistic — and hardly representative of the American electorate in 1960.

The polling organization Sindlinger & Co. did report that its survey respondents who listened to the debate on radio thought Nixon won, by a 2-to-1 margin.

But as  Vancil and Pendell pointed out, Sindlinger’s sample of radio listeners included just 282 respondents — of whom 178 offered an opinion about the debate winner. The numbers were far too few to permit meaningful generalizations or conclusions.

Like many media myths, the notion of listener-viewer disagreement is so delicious that it must have been true.

The New Republic hinted at such sentiment on Monday, the day of the final Obama-Romney debate, in an essay that stated: “[P]erhaps it’s safe to say that 1960 was the year we learned that looks and demeanor, as seen on TV, were just as important as speech when it came to winning over voters.”

In making the claim, the New Republic essay cited an intriguing experiment, reported in 2003, in which 171 summer students at the University of Minnesota either viewed a video of the first Kennedy-Nixon debate or listened to an audio recording of the encounter.

None of the participants had prior knowledge about the Kennedy-Nixon debate, according to the researcher, James Druckman.

He reported finding that television viewers in his experiment “were significantly more likely to believe Kennedy won the debate than audio listeners.”

This, he declared, represented “the first clear empirical evidence consistent with the widespread assertion of viewer-listener disagreement in the first Kennedy-Nixon debate.”

But in a footnote, Druckman reported that 81 percent of the viewers in his experiment thought Kennedy won; so did 60 percent of listeners.

That finding is inconsistent with the central element of alleged viewer-listener disagreement — that Kennedy won among television viewers while Nixon won among radio listeners.

What’s more, participants in Druckman’s experiment skewed Democratic: The “sample did underrepresent Republicans,” he wrote in another footnote. As such, participants may have been more readily sympathetic to Kennedy, the Democratic candidate, than to Nixon, the Republican.

Druckman also acknowledged that “younger people”  in the early 21st century may have processed “televised information differently” from viewers in 1960. To be sure, applying the experiment’s results to viewers and listeners of the presidential debate in 1960 is impossible.

WJC

Recent and related:

‘We’re trying to toughen you up’: Never happened with Obama and news media

In Debunking, Media myths on October 7, 2012 at 8:39 am

“We’re trying to toughen you up.”

Remember that?

It was nearly six years ago when New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd made the comment to then-Senator Barack Obama, as his campaign for the presidency was unfolding.

Obama at the debate

Her remark was in reply to Obama’s criticism — uttered perhaps half in jest — about Dowd’s having mentioned his prominent ears. (She wrote in a column in October 2006: “He’s intriguingly imperfect: His ears stick out, he smokes, and he’s written about wrestling with pot, booze and ‘maybe a little blow’ as a young man.”)

“You talked about my ears,” Obama told her later, “and I just want to put you on notice: I’m very sensitive about — what I told them was I was teased relentlessly when I was a kid about my big ears.”

Dowd said in response:

“We’re trying to toughen you up.”

Of course, “toughen up” never happened. The mainstream U.S. news media rarely have treated Obama with anything but swooning deference. He and his policies seldom have been exposed to rigorous and critical assessment. Not in any sustained way, and certainly not during the 2012 election season.

As Andrew Klavan wrote recently in City Journal: “No other president could have … presided over such a crippled economy and such universal failures at war and in foreign policy and escaped almost without mainstream blame.”

The upshot of media deference was on vivid display Wednesday night, when Obama’s economic record was eviscerated by Republican challenger Mitt Romney in a debate stunning for its lopsidedness.

Not even Richard Nixon lost so utterly in 1960 in his debates with John F. Kennedy.

For the first time in his presidency, Obama was called to account publicly and prominently for the economic failings of his administration. And he had nothing in rebuttal: Romney’s unrelenting pressure left Obama looking flustered, hapless.

Since then, the mainstream news media have been inclined to blame Obama’s performance on Romney’s having told nothing but lies, on the clumsy moderation of Jim Lehrer of PBS, and (in Al Gore’s telling) on the altitude in Denver, the debate’s host city.

Even now, the mainstream news media are little inclined to “toughen up” Obama, even with two debates ahead and his presidency very much in the balance.

An inevitable reason for all this can be traced to the dearth of intellectual diversity at leading U.S. news organizations. The ideological imbalance in newsrooms is hardly a secret: News organizations themselves have called attention to this defect from time to time.

For example, the then-ombudsman for the Washington Post, Deborah Howell, wrote in a post-election column in November 2008:

“I’ll bet that most Post journalists voted for Obama. I did. There are centrists at The Post as well. But the conservatives I know here feel so outnumbered that they don’t even want to be quoted by name in a memo.”

Howell’s column quoted Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, as saying:

“The perception of liberal bias is a problem by itself for the news media. It’s not okay to dismiss it. Conservatives who think the press is deliberately trying to help Democrats are wrong. But conservatives are right that journalism has too many liberals and not enough conservatives.

“It’s inconceivable that that is irrelevant.”

More recently, in his farewell column in August, Arthur Brisbane, the New York Times public editor (or ombudsman), chided the newspaper’s “political and cultural progressivism” which, he said, “virtually bleeds through the fabric of The Times.

“As a result,” Brisbane declared, “developments like the Occupy movement and gay marriage seem almost to erupt in The Times, overloved and undermanaged, more like causes than news subjects.”

Rather than treat the “overloved and undermanaged” critique as a matter of serious consideration, the Times’ executive editor, Jill Abramson, rejected it out of hand, dismissing it as obviously erroneous.

Brisbane’s observations, the product of two years as the newspaper’s ombudsman, deserved a reception far more thoughtful and serious-minded than that. Especially given the newspaper’s mostly forgotten internal report in 2005 which said in part:

“Both inside and outside the paper, some people feel we are missing stories because the staff lacks diversity in viewpoints, intellectual grounding and individual backgrounds. We should look for all manner of diversity. We should seek talented journalists who happen to have military experience, who know rural America first hand, who are at home in different faith.” (Emphasis added.)

The critique of the news media’s ideological imbalance is more than impressionistic, more than “perception”: A survey in 2008 of journalists for national news publications reported that 8 percent identified themselves as “conservative,” 32 percent as “liberal,” and 53 percent as “moderate.”

Such imbalance has given rise to the occasional vague promise to promote intellectual diversity in the newsroom.

But nothing much changes.  As I pointed out in my 2010 book, Getting It Wrong, “Viewpoint diversity is an issue not much discussed” in American newsrooms — “places that sometimes seem to be bastions of group-think.”

In that regard, I quoted Michael Kelly, former editor of National Journal, who once observed:

“Reporters like to picture themselves as independent thinkers. In truth, with the exception of 13-year-old girls, there is no social subspecies more slavish to fashion, more terrified of originality and more devoted to group-think.”

Obama has thrived for years within the reassuring confines of the media cocoon which, when ripped away as it was Wednesday night, makes for dramatic theater. But it does little for the news media and their sagging credibility.

WJC

Recent or related:

Some dubious election history from Al Jazeera English

In Anniversaries, Debunking, Error, Media myths, Television on September 20, 2012 at 12:12 pm

First televised presidential debate

The first televised presidential debate in 1960 gave rise to an enduring media myth — the notion that television viewers and radio listeners interpreted the encounter quite differently.

The myth of viewer-listener disagreement lives on despite its thorough dismantling 25 years ago, in an article in Central States Speech Journal by scholars David L. Vancil and Sue D. Pendell.

Vancil and Pendell noted that reports of viewer-listener disagreement in the first of four debates between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon in 1960 typically were impressionistic and anecdotal.

Moreover, they wrote, the few surveys that hinted at a viewer-listener disconnect were too small and unrepresentative to allow confident or sweeping judgments.

Vancil and Pendell also challenged the notion that Nixon’s haggard appearance and sweaty brow contributed powerfully to television viewers’ perceptions about the debate, which took place September 26, 1960.

“Appearance problems, such as Nixon’s perspiring brow, could have had a negative impact on viewer perceptions,” Vancil and Pendell wrote, “but it is also possible for viewers to be sympathetic to such problems, or to interpret them as evidence of attractive or desirable qualities.”

They also wrote that “the inference that appearance problems caused Nixon’s loss, or Kennedy’s victory [in the debate] is classic post hoc fallacy.”

Their debunking notwithstanding, the myth of viewer-listener disagreement tends to resurface at or near the anniversaries of the first Kennedy-Nixon debate.

Take, for example, a commentary posted today at the English-language online site of Al Jazeera, the Qatar-based Arabic television network.

The commentary describes the first Kennedy-Nixon debate as “a bellwether” and asserts that “listeners tuning in via radio considered the debate a draw or even a slight win for Nixon. But the 65 million who tuned in by TV saw something very different. Kennedy appeared vigorous yet relaxed, while Nixon looked pale and nervous. … Those viewing the debate on television judged Kennedy as the clear winner.”

But as Vancil and Pendell reported years ago, there is no persuasive, compelling evidence to support such claims.

Not only that, but contemporaneous evidence, including public opinion polls, offer scant support for the notion that television audiences “judged Kennedy as the clear winner.”

To be sure, not all observers saw it that way in late September 1960. In its post-debate editorial, the Washington Post declared, for example:

“Of the two performances Mr. Nixon’s probably was the smoother.

“He is an accomplished debater with a professional polish, and he managed to convey a slightly patronizing air of a master instructing a pupil.”

And the Los Angeles Times said in an editorial (beneath the headline “A slow fight to a draw”) that most television viewers of the debate probably “felt as we did: they were disappointed because (a) they could not pick a winner and (b) they could not find that any single issue had been sharpened up by the abrasives of debate.”

The nationally prominent columnist, James Reston, wrote in the New York Times after the debate:

“This TV program did not do any of the dramatic things predicted for it. It did not make or break either candidate. … Who took the first round is a matter of individual opinion. My own view is that Kennedy gained more than Nixon, but it was a fielder’s choice, settling nothing.”

A Gallup poll released in October 1960 reported that 43 percent of the debate’s viewers and listeners thought Kennedy “did the better job.” Twenty-three percent thought Nixon’s performance was better, and 29 percent said the candidates were about the same. Five percent offered no opinion.

But opinions about the debate did not translate into a decisive advantage for Kennedy. The same survey reported Kennedy was narrowly ahead in the race, by 49 percent to 46 percent, with 5 percent undecided.

That result represented a modest change from Gallup’s poll taken just before the debate, which reported Nixon leading narrowly, by 47 percent to 46 percent.

But Gallup described the post-debate shift as too slight to be meaningful.

“The prudent reader can see,” George Gallup, head of the polling organization, wrote in describing the results, “that polling accuracy has not reached the degree of accuracy required to say with certainty which candidate is ahead in a close race such as the present one.”

WJC

Recent or related:

Appearance decisive in politics? Revisiting the Kennedy-Nixon debate

In Debunking, Media myths on June 23, 2011 at 4:04 am

First presidential debate, 1960

The power of the image in presidential politics was never better demonstrated than in September 1960.

That was when John F. Kennedy supposedly won the first-ever televised debate between U.S. presidential candidates because he appeared so poised, rested, and telegenic compared to his sweaty, haggard-looking rival, Richard M. Nixon.

Most television viewers thought so, supposedly.

But people who listened to the debate on radio had a distinctly different impression: They thought Nixon won the encounter.

So goes one of the most delicious, enduring, and often-repeated myths about the American media and politics, which was served up yesterday in a commentary posted online yesterday by Canadian-based Troy Media.

The commentary declared:

“The major story of the first televised presidential debate in 1960 became the photogenic appeal of John F. Kennedy versus the sickly look of his opponent, Richard Nixon. … Radio listeners, who heard the debate but hadn’t seen it, gave the victory to Nixon. But a large majority of television viewers recognized Kennedy as the winner.”

The myth of viewer-listener disagreement — that television viewers and radio listeners had starkly different impressions of the inaugural presidential debate — was destroyed (or ought to have been) in research published in 1987 by David L. Vancil and Sue D. Pendell.

They noted that reports of viewer-listener disagreement were thin, flawed, and anecdotal, and the few surveys that hinted at a viewer-listener disconnect were too small and unrepresentative to allow for confident assessments.

Vancil and Pendell concluded:

“The relationship of substance and appearance is complex, and the effects of electronic media on political communication surely deserve attention. However, there is little merit in speculation based upon unsupported anecdotes of the first Kennedy-Nixon debate.”

Vancil and Pendell’s research also challenged the notion that Nixon’s haggard look much contributed to views about the debate.

“Appearance problems, such as Nixon’s perspiring brow, could have had a negative impact on viewer perceptions,” they wrote, “but it is also possible for viewers to be sympathetic to such problems, or to interpret them as evidence of attractive or desirable qualities.”

They added: “Even if viewers disliked Nixon’s physical appearance, the relative importance of this factor is a matter of conjecture.”

It’s revealing to note that a good deal of post-debate commentary deemed the encounter a draw.

For example, James Reston, then the Washington bureau chief for the New York Times, wrote shortly after the debate: “Who took the first round is a matter of individual opinion. My own view is that Kennedy gained more than Nixon, but it was a fielder’s choice, settling nothing.”

But the Washington Post saw it another way, stating in a post-debate editorial:

“Of the two performances, Mr. Nixon’s was probably the smoother. He is an accomplished debater with a professional polish, and he managed to convey a slightly patronizing air of a master instructing a pupil.”

Right after the Kennedy-Nixon encounter, the Associated Press conducted an unscientific survey of 100 Americans in 10 major U.S. cities and reported that most respondents said they weren’t influenced by the exchanges.

“Only a few persons,” the AP reported, “said they had actually switched from one candidate to the other because of the debate.”

And it was hardly the case that “a large majority of television viewers recognized Kennedy as the winner” of the debate, as the Troy Media commentary claimed.

A Gallup poll conducted during the week after the debate and released October 11, 1960, reported that 43 percent of voters thought Kennedy “did the better job” in the debate; 23 percent thought Nixon was better, and 29 percent said both candidates were about the same. Five percent offered no opinion.

The survey, moreover, detected no marked shift of support to Kennedy, post-debate. The survey reported Kennedy to be narrowly ahead, by 49 percent to 46 percent, with 5 percent undecided.

“The prudent reader can see,” George Gallup, head of the polling organization, stated in reporting those results, “that polling accuracy has not reached the degree of accuracy required to say with certainty which candidate is ahead in a close race such as the present one.”

WJC

Recent and related:

On Gingrich, JFK, and the appearance factor in presidential debates

In Debunking, Media myths on June 13, 2011 at 11:19 am

First presidential debate, 1960

The first televised presidential debate set a standard for American politics.

A myth-encrusted standard.

John F. Kennedy supposedly won that debate in September 1960 because he looked so much more rested and telegenic than his rival, Richard M. Nixon. There is, however, scant evidence to support that notion, which was revived yesterday in a commentary at the Daily Caller blog.

The commentary suggested that Newt Gingrich’s beleaguered presidential campaign might find a spark during tonight’s debate in New Hampshire among seven Republicans seeking the presidency.

In 1960, the Daily Caller commentary stated, “then-Sen. John F. Kennedy reportedly spent the day of his big debate against Vice President Richard Nixon getting a sun tan and resting. Nixon, on the other hand, spent the day rigorously campaigning (he also didn’t wear makeup). It worked for Kennedy who, thanks to the advent of TV, ‘won’ the debate. A rested Gingrich might likewise perform well in Monday’s debate in New Hampshire.”

Gingrich’s hopes to win the presidency probably were destroyed with last week’s mass departure of top campaign staffers and advisers. But his long-shot candidacy is of scant interest to Media Myth Alert. Far more compelling is the Daily Caller’s claim about the presidential debate in September 1960.

It’s important to note that most commentary in the debate’s immediate aftermath called the Kennedy-Nixon encounter a draw.

For example, James Reston, then the Washington bureau chief for the New York Times, wrote in a post-debate column: “Who took the first round is a matter of individual opinion. My own view is that Kennedy gained more than Nixon, but it was a fielder’s choice, settling nothing.”

The Washington Post, on the other hand, said in a post-debate editorial:

“Of the two performances, Mr. Nixon’s was probably the smoother. He is an accomplished debater with a professional polish, and he managed to convey a slightly patronizing air of a master instructing a pupil.”

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch hedged in its assessment, declaring: “We should not say that anybody won. … They both looked pretty young to us.”

Immediately after the Kennedy-Nixon encounter, the Associated Press conducted an unscientific survey in 10 major U.S. cities and reported that most respondents said they hadn’t been influenced by the exchanges. “Only a few persons,” according to AP, “said they had actually switched from one candidate to the other because of the debate.”

In the months afterward, Nixon’s sweaty brow and haggard appearance during the debate emerged as factors supposedly decisive to the outcome of the encounter — and to the 1960 election. Such claims, however, rest on more on conjecture than compelling evidence.

David L. Vancil and Sue D. Pendell wrote in a revealing journal article published in 1987 that “the inference that appearance problems caused Nixon’s loss, or Kennedy’s victory [in the debate], is classic post hoc fallacy.

“Appearance problems, such as Nixon’s perspiring brow, could have had a negative impact on viewer perceptions, but it is also possible for viewers to be sympathetic to such problems, or to interpret them as evidence of attractive or desirable qualities.”

That is, Nixon’s sweating under hot television lights could have stirred viewers empathy, making them feel more kindly toward the Republican candidate. It’s a plausible supposition.

Vancil and Pendell also wrote:

“Even if viewers disliked Nixon’s physical appearance, the relative importance of this factor in viewers’ selection of a debate winner is a matter of conjecture.”

A Gallup poll conducted during the week following the debate and released October 11, 1960, reported that 43 percent of voters thought Kennedy “did the better job” in the debate, which was the first of four during the 1960 fall campaign. Twenty-three percent thought Nixon was better; 29 percent said both candidates were about the same. Five percent offered no opinion.

But the poll did not specifically address the appearance of either candidate; nor did the poll detect a sharp swing of support to Kennedy. The survey reported Kennedy to be narrowly ahead, by 49 percent to 46 percent, with 5 percent undecided.

That result represented a slight change from a Gallup survey taken just before the debate, which reported Nixon leading by 47 percent to 46 percent.

But Gallup termed the post-debate shift too slight to be meaningful.

“The prudent reader can see,” George Gallup, head of the polling organization, stated in reporting the results, “that polling accuracy has not reached the degree of accuracy required to say with certainty which candidate is ahead in a close race such as the present one.”

By the way, Kennedy didn’t take off the day of the debate to rest and work on his tan, as the Daily Caller commentary said. The Chicago Tribune reported that Kennedy received “a boisterous welcome” in an appearance that afternoon at a carpenters union convention in Chicago, the debate’s host city.

WJC

Recent and related:

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: