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Gallup Vault: Americans Impressed by JFK Press Conferences

Gallup Vault: Americans Impressed by JFK Press Conferences

In John F. Kennedy's second year as president, Gallup conducted a poll to discern how the American public evaluated "the give-and-take between the president and the press" in what was then a relatively new press conference format. Gallup asked Americans to rate both Kennedy's performance in these press conferences as well as the questions that reporters posed.

About three in four Americans in 1962 said they had seen or heard one of Kennedy's press conferences in the past six months. Of these, 91% had a favorable impression of his performance.

Americans' Views on How Kennedy Handled Himself at Press Conferences
Do you have a favorable or unfavorable impression of the way President Kennedy handles himself in these press conferences?
April 6-11, 1962
%
Favorable impression 91
Unfavorable impression 4
No opinion 5
Based on respondents who had heard or seen any presidential press conference in the past six months
Gallup

The modern presidential press conference -- in which the president fields questions directly from the national press corps, both on the record and televised -- was about seven years old in 1962. However, in a shift from Dwight Eisenhower's era, when only clips were broadcast at a later time, Kennedy's press conferences were shown live and unedited, with what George Gallup called an "impromptu atmosphere."

In describing survey respondents' reactions to Kennedy in action, Gallup wrote, "To the people across the country, he is projecting a favorable image of a forceful leader who is very well-informed and extremely capable in the verbal footwork of the press conference." Respondents commented that "he never gets rattled," "he always knows the answers" and "he handles it with dignity and charm." Kennedy's job approval rating at the time of the survey was 77%.

At the same time, Americans were somewhat ambivalent about the press. When asked in an open-ended fashion to say what they thought of the questions that reporters asked, 36% offered positive comments, including that the questions were "excellent," "informative" and "very much to the point." About half said the questions were "just fair," "average" or "not bad" or described them as both good and bad. Relatively few, 9%, were downright critical, calling the questions "repetitious," "silly" or "foolish" or saying they were designed to "trap" or "embarrass" Kennedy.

Americans' Views on the Questions That Reporters Asked Kennedy
How good are the questions asked by the reporters at these press conferences?
April 6-11, 1962
%
Excellent/Informative/Very interesting/Very much to the point 36
Fair/Average/Not bad/Mixed 48
Repetitious/Silly/Foolish/Superficial/Trying to trap the president 9
No opinion 7
Based on respondents who had heard or seen any presidential press conference in the past six months
Gallup

Gallup also addressed a more general concern about press conferences by asking: "Some people see a danger in having a president express his views offhand and without time to think out his answers. These people say it would be better to have the questions put in writing and submitted a day or two before he appears at the press conference. Do you agree or disagree with this?"

Only a third of Americans (32%) agreed the new format was risky, preferring the press submit their questions in writing ahead of time. The majority (61%) said presidential press conferences should be kept as they were. The format of solo presidential press conferences remains largely the same today. What has changed is the frequency, as well as the addition of a variety of other interview formats allowing the president to communicate to the American public through the press.

Read the original Gallup news releases from May 6 and May 9, 1962.

These data can be found in Gallup Analytics.

Read more from the Gallup Vault.


Gallup http://www.gallup.com/vault/207530/gallup-vault-americans-impressed-jfk-press-conferences.aspx
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