Politics

Americans: Kennedy Assassination a Conspiracy

No consensus about who was involved

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- Americans are skeptical of the official conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone when he assassinated President John F. Kennedy 40 years ago, but there is no consensus about which conspiracy theory to believe.

Three-quarters of Americans recently told Gallup that they think more than one man was involved in Kennedy's assassination. Only 19% of Americans think it was the work of one individual. When asked who else might have been behind the assassination, no more than 37% of the public believes any single entity or individual was involved.

The most commonly believed theory is that the Mafia was involved (37%), followed closely by speculation that the CIA was involved (34%). Only 18% of Americans think that Kennedy's vice president, Lyndon B. Johnson, was involved -- a theory advanced in a History Channel film on Monday, and sharply rebuked by former Johnson aides as a "smear." Even fewer, 15% each, think the Cubans or the Soviet Union were involved.

Involved in the Assassination of JFK?
Nov. 10-12, 2003

Overall, 63% of Americans believe at least one of the five theories tested, while 37% do not believe any of them.

A Popular Figure

Kennedy is well regarded by Americans today. The public is equally likely to mention Kennedy as Abraham Lincoln (17% each) when asked to name the greatest U.S. president. In fact, Kennedy has ranked first or second on this question in the five times Gallup has asked it since 1999. Kennedy exceeds all of the recent U.S. presidents on this measure today, although with 13%, Ronald Reagan comes close, ranking third. Nine percent mention Bill Clinton; George W. Bush and Jimmy Carter each receive 3%.

Who do you regard as the greatest United States President?

 

Nov 10-12, 2003

%

John Kennedy

17

Abraham Lincoln

17

Ronald Reagan

13

Franklin Roosevelt

11

Bill Clinton

9

George Washington

7

George W. Bush

3

Harry Truman

3

Thomas Jefferson

3

Theodore Roosevelt

3

Jimmy Carter

3

Dwight Eisenhower

2

George Bush (the elder)

2

Richard Nixon

1

Other

2

None

*

No opinion

4



Moreover, more than four in five Americans consider Kennedy to have been either a "great" (43%) or a "good" (42%) president; only 14% of Americans consider him to have been fair or poor. This assessment is similar to what Gallup found in 1993, and slightly improved from 20 years ago, when only 31% said history would remember him as a great president. (These positive views of Kennedy's presidency are not merely historical revisionism on the part of the public. While in office, Kennedy was also very highly rated by the public; in fact, he had the highest average job approval rating (70%) of any president in Gallup's history.)

How do you think John F. Kennedy will go down in history -- as a great president, a good president, a fair president, or a poor president?

Seven in 10 Americans approve of Kennedy personally -- a measure distinct from their views of his performance as president.

Apart from whether you approve or disapprove of the way John F. Kennedy handled his job as president, what do you think of Kennedy as a person? Would you say you approve or disapprove of him?

 

Approve

Disapprove

No opinion

2003 Nov 14-16

70%

24

6



Unlike in Kennedy's lifetime, when the press either avoided reporting or was unaware of Kennedy's alleged philandering, his affairs have become public fodder in recent years. However, it appears that Kennedy's reputation remains mostly intact. In a mid-November CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, Americans aged 40 and older were asked if the revelations about Kennedy that have come to light after his death have changed their views of him. The majority of Americans in that age group (73%) say no, while only 22% say they have.

Whither Vietnam?

Kennedy supported U.S. military involvement in Vietnam as an effort to prevent the fall of South Vietnam to communism, and to stem its spread to Southeast Asia. However, under Johnson, the Vietnam "problem" became the Vietnam "conflict," and the repercussions of the war were so negative on public ratings of Johnson that he was compelled to not seek re-election in 1968. There has long been debate about whether this ratcheting up of involvement would have occurred if Kennedy had not been killed. Americans are equally divided at 44% on this question.

If Kennedy had not been assassinated, do you think the U.S. would -- or would not -- have become involved in a full-scale war in Vietnam?
Nov. 10-12, 2003

Additional Findings

There is broad public agreement that Oswald was part of a conspiracy to kill Kennedy, and fondness for Kennedy as a president and a person can be found in most quarters of society. Still, within this broad outline, some interesting distinctions appear in the data.

  • Belief in a conspiracy surrounding the Kennedy assassination declines with age. Nearly 9 in 10 18- to 29-year-olds (87%) believe Oswald was part of a conspiracy, compared with just 61% among those 65 and older.
  • Republicans are almost twice as likely as Democrats to believe Oswald acted alone (28% vs. 16%).
  • Support for the theories that either the Mafia or the CIA participated in the assassination plot is higher among those aged 18 to 49 than those over 50. By contrast, those over 50 appear slightly more likely to believe that the Soviet Union or the Cubans were involved. Support for the theory that Johnson was involved is similar by age.
Involved in the Assassination of JFK?
by Age
Nov. 10-12, 2003
  • Seniors are less likely than those under 65 to consider Kennedy to have been a great president. Only 33% of those 65 and older rate him "great" versus 43% to 45% of those in the younger age categories.
  • Ratings of Kennedy are not as partisan as one might expect. The percentage rating him "great" is just 51% among Democrats, and is only moderately lower (33%) among Republicans. The total percentage rating Kennedy great or good is 93% among Democrats, 84% among independents, and 77% among Republicans.
  • Ratings of Kennedy as a person are perhaps more partisan than one would expect. Eighty-three percent of Democrats, but only 53% of Republicans, say they approve of Kennedy as a person. Independents are more closely aligned with Democrats than Republicans on this measure, with 72% saying they approve of Kennedy as a person.
  • Republicans in the 40+-age range are twice as likely as Democrats of that age group to say that revelations about Kennedy since his death have reduced their opinion of him (25% of Republicans vs. 13% of Democrats).

Survey Methods

These results are based on two recent national surveys. The first was conducted Nov. 10-12, 2003, and is based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,004 adults, aged 18 and older. The second was conducted Nov. 14-16, 2003, and is also based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,004 adults, aged 18 and older. For results based on sample of this size, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

18. Who do you regard as the greatest United States President?

 

Nov 10-12,
2003

Apr 5-6,
2003

Feb 9-11,
2001 ^

Feb 14-15,
2000 ^

Feb
1999

%

%

%

%

%

John Kennedy

17

13

16

22

12

Abraham Lincoln

17

15

14

18

18

Ronald Reagan

13

10

18

11

12

Franklin Roosevelt

11

9

6

12

9

Bill Clinton

9

11

9

5

12

George Washington

7

7

5

5

12

George W. Bush

3

11

--

--

--

Harry Truman

3

4

6

3

4

Thomas Jefferson

3

2

1

3

2

Theodore Roosevelt

3

2

2

3

3

Jimmy Carter

3

3

4

3

3

Dwight Eisenhower

2

1

1

3

2

George Bush (the elder)

2

2

3

3

5

Richard Nixon

1

1

1

2

2

Other

2

2

5

3

1

None

*

1

2

*

1

No opinion

4

6

7

4

2

^ Asked of half sample.



19. Turning now to the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963, do you think that one man was responsible for the assassination of President Kennedy, or do you think that others were involved in a conspiracy?

BASED ON –533—NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM A

 

One man

Others involved

No opinion

%

%

%

2003 Nov 10-12 ^

19

75

6

2001 Mar 26-28

13

81

6

1993 Nov 15-16

15

75

10

1992 Feb †

10

77

13

1983 Oct †

11

74

15

1976 Dec ‡

11

81

9

1966 Dec ‡

36

50

15

1963 Nov ‡

29

52

19

^

Asked of a half sample

Wording included "one man, Lee Harvey Oswald,…"

Slight variations in wording:
1963 - "Do you think that the man who shot President Kennedy acted on his own, or was some group or element also responsible?"

1966 - "Do you think that one man was responsible for the assassination of President Kennedy, or do you think others were involved?"

1976 - "Do you think that one man was responsible for the assassination of President Kennedy, or do you think others were involved?"



20. There have been many theories about who was involved in the assassination. I'd like to know if you think any of the following were involved in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Do you think – [ITEMS ROTATED, "LYNDON JOHNSON" READ LAST] – was/were involved in the assassination, or don't you think so?

BASED ON –471—NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM B

 

2003 Nov 10-12
(sorted by "yes, involved")

Yes,
involved

No, not
involved

Oswald acted
alone (vol.)

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

The Mafia

37

56

--

7

The CIA

34

60

--

6

Lyndon Johnson

18

75

--

7

The Cubans

15

78

--

7

The Soviet Union

15

77

*

8



21. How do you think John F. Kennedy will go down in history – as a great president, a good president, a fair president, or a poor president?

 

Great
president

Good
president

Fair
president

Poor
president

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

%

2003 Nov 10-12

43

42

13

1

1

1993 Nov 15-16

41

37

17

3

2

1983 Oct 14-31 ^

31

44

18

3

4

^

Gallup/Newsweek Poll.



22. If Kennedy had not been assassinated, do you think the U.S. would – or would not – have become involved in a full-scale war in Vietnam?

 

Yes, would have

No, would not have

No opinion

%

%

%

2003 Nov 10-12

44

44

12

1983 Oct 14-31 ^

37

40

23

^

Gallup/Newsweek Poll.



46. Apart from whether you approve or disapprove of the way John F. Kennedy handled his job as president, what do you think of Kennedy as a person? Would you say you approve or disapprove of him?

 

Approve

Disapprove

No opinion

2003 Nov 14-16

70%

24

6



47. Have the revelations about John F. Kennedy's personal life that came out after his death changed your view of him – [ROTATED: for the better, has it had no effect, or has it changed your view for the worse]?

BASED –677—ADULTS AGED 40 AND OLDER

 

Better

No effect

Worse

No opinion

2003 Nov 14-16

3%

73

22

2



Gallup http://www.gallup.com/poll/9751/Americans-Kennedy-Assassination-Conspiracy.aspx Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A +1 202.715.3030