Presidential Debate Analysis: John F. Kennedy Vs Richard Nixon

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About this sample


Words: 1531 |

Pages: 3|

8 min read

Published: Aug 14, 2023

Words: 1531|Pages: 3|8 min read

Published: Aug 14, 2023

Table of contents

  1. Historical Context
  2. The Kennedy and Nixon presidential debate
  3. Conclusion
  4. References

The purpose of this essay on presidential debate is to analyze the first debate between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon, the 1960 candidates for the presidency of the United States. 

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Historical Context

The 1950’s began with War and the fear of communism. To further elaborate, the Cold War was a rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union. At the beginning of the war, president Truman and the people of the United States greatly feared the spread of communism through the domino effect. To combat the spread of communism, President Truman started the “Truman Doctrine” which was an American foreign policy that attempted to prevent Russia from gaining any more influence on territories. Besides fighting communism, the United States needed to help Western Europe rebuild after the war. To assist with this, the “Marshall Plan” was implemented in 1948. The plan provided Western Europe with more than $12 billion dollars to rebuild their crushed economies. Later into 1948, in response to the Soviets blocking routes into West Berlin, the United States started the Berlin Airlift to provide the people of Berlin with food, water, and medical assistance. American assistance in West Berlin lasted for around a year; helping millions of people stay alive. As a Soviet attempt to spread communism, the Korean War began in 1950 by North Korean soldiers crossing past the 38th parallel into South Korea. The Korean War ended in 1953 by the signing of an Armistice agreeing to split the two Koreas. During the time of the Korean War, back in the United States, African American disconformity with segregation started to occur and the Supreme Court case of Brown v. Board of Education began in 1952. At the end of the trial, the court rule in Brown’s favor and integrated public schools. The court case had a major impact on American society and led to many riots including the infamous Little Rock Nine and sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott as an attempt to integrate public transportation too. In 1955, president Dwight D. Eisenhower led the United States into another war against communism, however, the Vietnam War would last for 18 years, meaning the president elect of 1960 would start their term in the middle of war.

The Kennedy and Nixon presidential debate

The Kennedy and Nixon debate was the first presidential debate to ever occur on live television in the United States. The debate starts off with the introduction of the two candidates: Republican candidate, Vice President Nixon and Democratic candidate, Senator John F. Kennedy. The moderator Howard K. Smith, then goes on to state the rules agreed upon by both candidates. The rules were as followed: each candidate would be given eight minutes to make their opening statements, three minutes to make their closing statements, each candidate will answer questions asked by a panel of four correspondents and the subject matter would be limited to internal and domestic American matter. Senator Kennedy begins his opening statement with a quote by former president Abraham Lincoln. To captivate the audience he then correlates Lincoln’s words to the threat communism poses to American freedom and calls the American people to action by telling them to be “the defense of freedom”. After empowering the people, Kennedy moves on to explain the aspects of American life he wants to change in order to better it. While doing this Kennedy uses the same statement of “I am not satisfied”(Kennedy, 1960), causing the viewers to think they truly are not satisfied. Kennedy calls for effective government action to fix these issues. He then ends strong with a quote from another former president, once again inspiring the American people. Nixon then follows poorly by starting with an attack against Kennedy and his campaign. Making Nixon appear hostile. Unlike Kennedy, Nixon chooses to start with the negatives of the American economy. He then moves on to the positives where he presents very put together ideas and statistics that defend previous Republican administrations. Nixon also uses this opening statement to present the Republican party’s platform. However, instead of ending with a call to action like his opponent, Nixon decides to end with another attack against Kennedy. The debate then moves on to the questioning part. The five correspondents are from NBC, ABC, Mutual and CBS News. The correspondent from ABC News starts the questioning by asking Kennedy to respond to the allegations Nixon has made about his naivety due to his youth. Kennedy then responds by comparing the same positions both him and Nixon have served in together, but Kennedy the rephrases the question to one that would make him look like the better candidate. Rephrasing and changing questions is something Senator Kennedy does many times throughout the debate. Vice President Nixon then responds to Kennedy’s statements with factual evidence. The questioning continues to go back and forth with responses from both candidates and questions from all the correspondents. Kennedy’s responses consisted of dancing around the question making him look very unprepared. While, Nixon’s responses were in continuous defense of the Republican party. After the questioning, Nixon is asked to make the first concluding statement. In his conclusion, Nixon compares the United States and its advances to the Soviet Union to give a perspective into how much better the United States is doing in comparison. Nixon then uses the rest of his speech to comment on several points Kennedy had made such as Social Security. To conclude his conclusion, Nixon then advocates for the betterment of the economy under his rule as president. Kennedy follows his conclusion by responding to Nixon's stances on the Soviet Union and Social Security. He ends by stating that if the voter believed America should stay as is, they should vote for Nixon, but if they believe there is room for growth then he is the man to do make the growth happen. Mr. Smith then ends the debate by thanking all the correspondents, both candidates and the promise for more debates.

Kennedy and Nixon both participated in the debate for the betterment of their campaigns. Television was a rather new addition to the American household. Previously, everything from the fireside chats to music was broadcasted through the radio. Both Kennedy and Nixon had already addressed their intentions as president through the radio, but never on live television and doing so would benefit both candidates. Through broadcasting on television, Kennedy and Nixon were able to have their views and opinions spread further than the United States; allowing them to exemplify democracy rather than communism. Broadcasting on television also allowed them to express their opinions in a visual way to appeal to more voters. Due to television being a newer form of technology, younger people tended to watch it, allowing both candidates to engage the younger voting generation.

The Kennedy-Nixon presidential debate had an immense impact on political aspects of United States democracy. Before watching the debate on television, most voters were projected to vote for Nixon, however, after watching the debate, the polls shifted drastically in Kennedy’s favor. The shifting of the polls was greatly due to the candidate’s appearance. Nixon while making good points, looked old, unapproachable and nervous. While Kennedy carried himself very well through his youth, preparedness and the makeup he allowed to be put on him before filming. This shifted the political stage to be appearance driven. The importance of appearance during debates is still in effect today since candidates are now aware of the impact it has on voters. The debate also had an effect on the Vietnam war, due to Kennedy winning the popular vote for the Democratic party. Democratic efforts to end the Vietnam War were then pushed. However, Kennedy was soon shot while visiting Texas leaving Lyndon B. Johnson as his successor. Johnson rapidly increased United States involvement in the war against the people’s wish. Johnson’s increase of United States involvement greatly affected the social movements in the 60s.


The debate itself is very low quality compared to the debates on television today. The audio cracks a lot, the camera glitches often and the recording is not in color. The general setting of the debate does not look very nice either. Nixon and Kennedy appear to be sitting on foldable metal chairs and there is no podium, instead the candidates simply have to stand up from their chair to speak. However, the format of the debate is very strong. The rules for the debate were very clear and the questions presented addressed the strengths and weaknesses of both candidates while still addressing current American issue. The format allowed each candidate a fair chance to display their views and opinions on the presidency. Nevertheless, the debate proved to be successful and changed political campaigning forever.


  1. 'Kennedy and Nixon Debate: First Presidential Debate.' John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum, 2021,

  2. 'Kennedy-Nixon First Presidential Debate, 1960.' C-SPAN, 2013,

  3. Green, J. David. 'How Nixon and Kennedy's First Televised Debate Changed the World.' The Atlantic, 23 Sept. 2016,

  4. 'The Kennedy-Nixon Debates.' Museum of Broadcast Communications, 2021,

  5. 'The Impact of the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon Debate.' University of Virginia Miller Center, 2021,

  6. 'The Kennedy-Nixon Presidential Debates.' The Museum of Broadcast Communications, 2000,

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  7. 'Television in the United States: The Kennedy-Nixon Debates.' Museum of Broadcast Communications, 2000,

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Presidential Debate Analysis: John F. Kennedy vs Richard Nixon. (2023, August 14). GradesFixer. Retrieved February 21, 2024, from
“Presidential Debate Analysis: John F. Kennedy vs Richard Nixon.” GradesFixer, 14 Aug. 2023,
Presidential Debate Analysis: John F. Kennedy vs Richard Nixon. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 21 Feb. 2024].
Presidential Debate Analysis: John F. Kennedy vs Richard Nixon [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2023 Aug 14 [cited 2024 Feb 21]. Available from:
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