11/21: Kennedy’s Words Live on Fifty Years Later

Marist National Poll

Tomorrow marks the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and many of President Kennedy’s words continue to ring true.  Which of the president’s quotes do Americans feel is most meaningful today?  More than six in ten — 62% — think, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” is most relevant.  More than one in five — 22% — believes the most meaningful quote from President Kennedy is, “Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.”  “The torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans — born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace” receives 7% while another 7% say, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard,” is the most memorable.  Three percent of Americans are unsure.

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Regardless of age, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” is considered to be the most evocative John F. Kennedy quote.  72% of Americans 60 and older, 63% of those 45 to 59, and 57% of those 30 to 44 have this view.  Even a plurality of those under the age of 30, 47%, say the same.  Among this age group, one-third — 33% — reports that “Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate” is the most relevant quote by John F. Kennedy.

And, when it comes to Kennedy’s legacy, most Americans say, fifty years from now, Kennedy will be remembered for his assassination and not his accomplishments while in office.  More than seven in ten adults nationally — 71% — report Kennedy’s death will be his legacy while 24% think the president’s initiatives will be thought of as the highlight of his administration.  Five percent are unsure.

Table: Most Meaningful Quote of President John F. Kennedy (U.S. Adults)

Table: Legacy of President John F. Kennedy (U.S. Adults)

Nearly Six in Ten Think JFK Assassination was a Conspiracy

58% of Americans believe Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone when he shot and killed President Kennedy.  28% think only one person was involved, and 14% are unsure.  Americans under the age of 30 — 67% — are more likely than any other age group to say that Kennedy’s assassination was a conspiracy.  This compares with 54% of those 30 to 44, 57% of Americans 45 to 59, and 59% of those 60 and older.

How did Americans older than 54 years old find out about Kennedy’s death?  Television was the source for 35%.  27% heard from a teacher while 19% heard the news over the radio.  Five percent were told by a friend or neighbor, and an additional 5% heard from a colleague at work.  A family member was the first source of information for 4% of Americans older than 54 while 3% heard the tragic news from a stranger.  One percent learned the news from the newspaper while an additional 1% found out in another way.  One percent is unsure.

Table: Was President John F. Kennedy’s Assassination a Conspiracy?  (U.S. Adults)

Table: How Americans Learned of President John F. Kennedy’s Assassination (U.S. Adults Born Before 1959)

September 11th, Not Kennedy Assassination, Considered Most Significant Tragedy

When asked which tragic event was the most significant for people living at the time, nearly half of Americans — 49% — report the September 11th terrorist attacks were the most impactful event to have occurred.  36% report Pearl Harbor was the most significant while 13% report President Kennedy’s assassination was the most consequential.  One percent says the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger was the most significant.  Two percent are unsure.

Age plays a role.  Younger Americans are the most likely to say September 11th was the most significant tragic event.  Majorities of those under 30 — 57% — and those 30 to 44 — 53% — think September 11th had the most impact.  Nearly half — 49% — of Americans 45 to 59 agree.  However, among residents 60 and older, 41% think Pearl Harbor was the most significant event to occur while 40% have this impression of September 11th.

A gender gap exists.  55% of women think September 11th was the most significant.  This compares with 42% of men who say the same.  41% of men, however, believe Pearl Harbor was the most tragic event to occur.

Table: Most Significant Tragic Event (U.S. Adults)

How the Survey was Conducted

Nature of the Sample