The First Kennedy-Nixon Debate Airs

Not only did the Kennedy-Nixon debates change the outcome of the 1960 election, but it also started a new era in which crafting a public image was essential to executing a successful political campaign. On September 26, 1960, John F. Kennedy (JFK) and Richard Nixon met in a Chicago studio to debate numerous domestic matters. After the debate concluded, the majority of radio listeners thought Nixon had won, but those who tuned into the televised broadcast thought otherwise.

Nixon had been recovering from a knee infection and refused to wear makeup, so he appeared sickly and nervous. His choice to wear a grey suit didn’t help either since he blended in with the walls behind him. JFK, on the other hand, appeared calm and confident in his dark blue suit. Without listening to the debate itself, it is evident why the majority of viewers were in favor of JFK.

After the first debate, Nixon changed his diet and began putting on more weight—but that wasn’t enough. Nixon’s public image had been set and the audience had difficulty seeing him differently. JFK won the 1960 presidential election, and Nixon refused to debate his opponent during the 1968 presidential campaign.


Article written by Sarah Wyland

Sarah Wyland
Sarah never gets in trouble for being on Facebook and Instagram at work, because its her job. As social media manager, she gets to tell the stories of travelers, teachers, and interesting places. Other titles she enjoys include dog mom to Knox, barre instructor, Crossfit athlete, avid reader, and world traveler.
Category: History