The Nixon-Kennedy Debate

On September 26, 1960, NBC held history's first-ever televised presidential debate. The young charismatic senator, John F. Kennedy, faced off against a dour vice president, Richard Nixon. Those who watched the debate on TV—nearly 74 million Americans—claimed JFK won. Those who tuned in by radio, however, claimed Nixon had won. At the Nov. 8 election that year, JFK won the presidency by a narrow margin. TV was credited with turning the vote in Kennedy's favor. For the first time, candidates were judged by how they sounded and how they came across to viewers, rather than what they said and how they appeared in the newspaper. Ever since that night, candidates have been chosen as much for their qualifications as they were for their TV appeal. [The Museum thanks SDSU students Annalise Dewhurst, Maggie Sin, Summer Chan, Carlos Gomez, Vanessa Mazon, as well as Prof. Kaye Sweetser, for contributing to this post.] See the debate: