1960 U.S. presidential election conspiracy theories

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Electoral map of the 1960 Presidential Election.[1]
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Long before Donald Trump was claiming the 2020 Presidential Election was stolen from him, the 1960 Presidential Election between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon was subject to many of the same conspiracy theories that still remain widely believed today. As David Greenberg wrote in a 2000 article for Salon, "That Richard Nixon was cheated out of the presidency in 1960 has become almost an accepted fact."[2]

The issue at hand is that these claims are total bullshit.


Rumors of election fraud in specific parts of the country, most notably Chicago, were common long before the 1960 Presidential Election occurred. Richard J. Daley, the then-mayor of Chicago, was famous for making the local Democratic Party a "political machine" in the words of historians.[3] However, the man widely credited as the person who brought these accusations to mainstream attention was Earl Mazo of The New York Herald Tribune.[2] Mazo was a biographer of Nixon who had published, Richard Nixon: A Political and Personal Portrait[4] the year before, when Nixon was still Vice President,[5] and the newspaper he wrote for "was a voice of moderate Republicanism"[6] during its time in print.

Mazo wrote a four-part series of articles alleging Nixon had been cheated, which have since been held up by historians and even Nixon himself as evidence of fraud. However, the articles are little more than a series of anecdotes, several of which were disputed at the time.[7]

The truth[edit]

At the time, Republicans went to court in order to demand a recount in various states that Nixon had lost, and the results were incredibly underwhelming. Although they were able to find the odd precinct where Nixon votes had been undercounted (just as they were able to find several where Kennedy votes were undercounted), none of them were by a great enough margin to actually change the results of the election. In fact, the only state which changed because of a recount was Hawaii, which gave its electoral votes to Kennedy in spite of it originally being called for Nixon.[2]

Many of these accusations can be explained away through a basic understanding of how elections work. For example, the Mazo articles focus heavily on Cook County,[7] a part of Illinois that Kennedy won with 318,736 votes. However, Kennedy did so well in the area primarily because the majority of the population being either Black or Catholic (making up 20% and 39% of Cook County's residents respectively).[8] Given that Kennedy received about 70% of the Black vote in 1960[9] and somewhere between about 70-80% of the Catholic vote[10] it is far from surprising that areas with high density of those two groups would end up voting for Kennedy.

Another common claim is that in Texas more people voted than were even registered to vote at the time. For example, Fannin County only had 4,895 registered voters, yet 6,138 votes were cast, with 75% of said votes going to Kennedy.[11] However, this can once again be explained rather simply. At the time, in order to be counted as having registered to vote in the state, one was required to pay a poll tax (this was before the Twenty-fourth Amendment made all such laws unconstitutional[12]) which certain members of the population, such as veterans and the elderly, were exempt from.[13]

The myth that will not die[edit]

In spite of the fact that nobody has provided evidence to support this notion, that does not mean some have not attempted to continue repeating this claim as if it were proven fact, sometimes even using it to justify other conspiracy theories with equally little basis. As you could imagine, Donald Trump claiming the 2020 Presidential Election was stolen from him provided a large number of chances for this idea to come back into the mainstream. For example, Michael Knowles once defended Donald Trump claiming "No candidate has ever won both Florida and Ohio and lost. I won them both, by a lot! #SupremeCourt"[14] by saying "The liberals invoking the 1960 presidential election to 'debunk' this claim might consider reading up on the 1960 presidential election."[15]

Even some (alleged) history books now contain information similar to this, with Paul Johnson's 1997 book A History of the American People[16] serving as one example. A large chunk of the claims about the election have either been debunked elsewhere on this page or are on the minor side, however special mention goes to this one, a favorite of those who believe Nixon was robbed:

Evidence of fraud in the two states was so blatant that a number of senior figures, including Eisenhower, urged Nixon to make a formal legal challenge to the result. But Nixon declined.[16]:854

This is a claim which has no evidence to back it up, with one journalist who was friends with Eisenhower saying "This was the first time I ever caught Nixon in a lie.”[17]