FORT LAUDERDALE, FL – Americans of all ages and political affiliations most want today’s leaders to emulate President John F. Kennedy’s ability to build public and political support for positive change, according to the findings of a new poll commissioned by Nova Southeastern University (NSU) on the eve of the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination. Kennedy’s greatest accomplishment, Americans believe, was his ability to save the world from the brink of nuclear annihilation during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.
“Though he was President only a brief time, about 1,000 days, President Kennedy set a standard for many important levels by which modern leaders are measured,” said George L. Hanbury II, Ph.D., president of Nova Southeastern University. “JFK’s ability to inspire and encourage Americans to public service makes him particularly relevant in today’s world of political rancor and divisiveness. This poll offers fascinating insights into how his leadership style would still appeal to modern voters.”
In the NSU-commissioned national poll conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, the Kennedy trait that most resonates with Americans is how he inspired individuals to give back to their community or country. The modern-era presidents who best reflected JFK’s positive qualities were Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, according to those surveyed, with foreseeable differences between the views of Democrats vs. Republicans and younger vs. older voters.
Age and political affiliation had a clear impact on responses. When asked to name the president in the past 30 years who best reflected President Kennedy’s positive qualities, 36 percent named Ronald Reagan and 32 percent identified Bill Clinton. However, Reagan was the choice of 71 percent of Republicans while Clinton was chosen by 65 percent of Democrats. Reagan was the favored choice of voters age 50 and older, while Clinton was the first choice among those age 35-49. Voters age 18-34 chose President Barack Obama as their first choice.
“It’s clear that Americans consider Presidents Reagan and Clinton to be the heirs to the legacy of Camelot and the New Frontier, not so much for specific policies but rather for inspiring leadership. Many of today’s leaders may not remember JFK, but the challenge they face is to live up to the inspirational ideals that President Kennedy has come to represent,” said Dr. Hanbury, a history expert who did his thesis on Thomas Jefferson.
Other findings in the survey include the revelation that more than seven in 10 Americans believe Lee Harvey Oswald killed President Kennedy – but only one in four believes Oswald acted alone. Only 3% of respondents believe a foreign government or the U.S. government itself had a role in the tragic event.
Voters age 65 and older said President Kennedy’s legacy most influenced their lives by inspiring them to give back to the community or country. Those younger than that were largely unsure of JFK’s influence on their lives.
When asked to rate President Kennedy’s greatest legacy, his ability to prevent nuclear war was the top choice among Republicans (32 percent) and Independents (23 percent), while the leading response among Democrats (26 percent) was that he helped people’s everyday lives by improving the economy and addressing segregation and discrimination. Among voters of all political stripes, those age 50 and up cited Kennedy’s ability to prevent nuclear war as his greatest legacy, while those younger than 50 credited his leadership in space exploration.
The poll was conducted October 28 through November 1. A total of 800 registered voters were interviewed nationwide by telephone, using both landline and cell phone numbers. The margin for error is 3.5 percent.
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About Nova Southeastern University: Situated on 314 beautiful acres in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, Nova Southeastern University (NSU) is a dynamic fully accredited research institution dedicated to providing high-quality educational programs at all levels. NSU is a not-for-profit independent institution with an enrollment of 27,000 students. NSU awards associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, specialist, doctoral and first-professional degrees in a wide range of fields. NSU is classified as a research university with “high research activity” by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, and it is one of only 37 universities nationwide to also be awarded Carnegie’s Community Engagement Classification. For more information visit www.nova.edu.
Julie Spechler | NSU