November 21, 2003
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.
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?
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.)
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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
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
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?
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?
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?
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