November 22nd, 2013
06:00 AM ET
9 years ago

CNN Poll: JFK tops presidential rankings for last 50 years

Washington (CNN) - John F. Kennedy is the most popular president of the last half century, according to a new national poll

A CNN/ORC International survey released Friday indicates that 90% of all Americans approve of how Kennedy handled his job as President. No other President of the last half century even comes close.

Second place belongs to Ronald Reagan, with a 78% retrospective approval rating, followed by Bill Clinton with 74%. Richard Nixon, Kennedy's 1960 rival and the only president ever forced to resign, is at the bottom with only 31% approving of his track record from 1969 to 1974. Only George W. Bush, with a 42% retrospective approval rating, is also under 50%.

"History has generally been kind to ex-presidents, but none more so than Kennedy. His approval rating in November of 1963 was 58%. In the 1990s, that number rose to 78% and rose even further in later years," said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.

The poll's release comes on the 50th anniversary of Kennedy's assassination.

There is no real generation gap in Kennedy's approval rating. It stands at 89% among people under 50 who were not even born when Kennedy was killed, and at 92% among older Americans, most of whom would have memories of Camelot.

"Perhaps the real tribute to Kennedy's legacy is that his approval rating is 90% in a time when it is nearly impossible to get nine in ten Americans to agree on anything," added Holland.

The poll was conducted November 18-20 for CNN by ORC International, with 843 adult Americans questioned by telephone. The survey's overall sampling error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

CNN Political Editor Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report.

Filed under: John F. Kennedy
soundoff (19 Responses)
  1. Marie MD

    Kennedy stopped the Russians in Cuba but sold out the island for decades.
    He was also more of a "conservative" than his two brothers were.
    It was a sad tragic day in our history. We have been watching some of the pieces of that day on TV and can you imagine Oswald being allowed to speak to the media about what he did or did not do on camera and to reporters?
    Times sure have changed!

    November 22, 2013 06:22 am at 6:22 am |
  2. sifto

    does this mean that all Presidents should only serve for 3 years?

    November 22, 2013 07:14 am at 7:14 am |
  3. Mark L.

    I was two-years old when President Kennedy was assassinated. To this day, my father is stunned that I was able to remember the toy I was playing with while both he and my late mother (may she forever RIP) were sitting in front of their old black and white TV set watching the shocking news and funeral. What can I say? It was one of my favorite toys – an old black "choo-choo" train that ran on batteries, making noise and blowing smoke / steam...{:o)

    November 22, 2013 07:36 am at 7:36 am |
  4. John

    A 90% approval rating and he was a Democrat that supported tax cuts on business. Go figure.

    November 22, 2013 07:50 am at 7:50 am |
  5. T Fox

    Interesting that both Clinton and Reagan are both near the top when philosophically they were miles apart. I guess optimism and compassion are the common thread.

    November 22, 2013 08:07 am at 8:07 am |
  6. smith

    Talk about a make yourself feel good poll. Of course the man who died in the line of duty would get the most approval. Then for second place, the man who almost died in the line of duty. The US hasn`t had a good potus since good ol` Abe or Grant.

    November 22, 2013 08:09 am at 8:09 am |
  7. Curious_G

    Interesting. Kennedy was responsible for potentially the biggest military blunder in our history. I think people romanticize him more now because of how he died.

    His entire family rose based on criminal activity, and the patriarch wanted one of his sons to be president. Jack was the third choice by a long shot.

    November 22, 2013 08:18 am at 8:18 am |
  8. Rick McDaniel

    No one can predict what will be necessary, to stop political excesses in America.

    November 22, 2013 08:31 am at 8:31 am |
  9. MDL

    JFK was very good President but do not forget he did commit US advisors to Vietnam and then backed out of supporting efforts to overthrow Castro only to back out at the last moment thus the Bay of Pigs incident.

    November 22, 2013 08:31 am at 8:31 am |
  10. Say it ain't so

    Guys this is kennedy, you can put him against anyone & he will win.

    November 22, 2013 08:33 am at 8:33 am |
  11. Rudy NYC

    One of the most memorable books that I read when was young was "PT-109", which tells the tale of his wartime heroics after he had severly injured his back.

    November 22, 2013 08:47 am at 8:47 am |
  12. Ridiculous

    Jimmy Carter has a 60% approval rating??? What a joke.....guy was a total failure!

    November 22, 2013 09:01 am at 9:01 am |
  13. Jon

    Maybe among the lay population, but not among presidential scholars in academia. Do we also allow Joe Blow to make pronouncements about scientific matters?

    November 22, 2013 09:14 am at 9:14 am |
  14. Gurgyl

    Very high respect man in USA history.

    November 22, 2013 09:15 am at 9:15 am |
  15. American Worker

    I was a toddler at the time. But even then, I sensed that something changed in the adults around me.

    Yesterday's move by Harry Reid is a major set back to everything that President Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy did to assure that the minority had inclusion and representation in government. Harry Reid effectively thumbed his nose at the Kennedy legacy.

    November 22, 2013 09:17 am at 9:17 am |
  16. Data Driven

    "In the final analysis, it's their war. They're the ones who have to win or lose it," Kennedy, speaking to Walter Cronkite in late 63, referring to the South Vietnamese

    When I think about my father's service in Vietnam, those words come back to me. How different would his life (and, consequently, mine) have been if JFK hadn't been murdered? How many of the tens of thousands of our citizens would be alive today? How different would have the whole country been?

    It's always just speculation, but Kennedy was clearly skeptical of our increasing involvement over there. And if the Bay of Pigs showed us anything, it was that he wasn't the type to be bullied into precipitate action by spymasters and generals. Basically, I think the 60s would have been vastly different - better - if he had served until 1968.

    November 22, 2013 09:25 am at 9:25 am |
  17. Tony in Maine

    This will annoy the Reagan acolytes.

    November 22, 2013 09:29 am at 9:29 am |
  18. RichardLB

    843 people?? Probability and Statistics aside, that's way too small of a sampling (+/- 3.5% margin of error??) to extrapolate out to 350 MILLION.

    November 22, 2013 09:40 am at 9:40 am |
  19. Rick Reid

    I am totally thrilled to see President Kennedy at the top of the list in this poll. He truly was a great leader for a short period. I was 12 years old when he was cut down in Dallas and remember it like yesterday. So sad and so shocking. When I saw the Zapruder tape for the first time in the 70's I cried and still do today when I see it. What a horrible death and his beautiful wife right next to him. Had to be horrifying and something she would never forget. How could she? I don't forget and I wasn't sitting next to him.

    November 22, 2013 09:44 am at 9:44 am |