JFK and RFK worried, a little, about poll drop to 70 percent

This was the image on the screen as we heard Bobby say, "God... the poll..."

This was the image on the screen as we heard Bobby say, “God… the poll…”

The last couple of mornings during my workouts, I’ve been watching the Netflix documentary series, “Bobby Kennedy for President.”

I’m motivated to do so by the enervating despair that today’s politics instills. I was young then and not following politics very closely, but it’s always been my understanding that RFK’s campaign had an inspirational effect on voters, and I’d like to see a candidate that I might be able to feel good about — because it’s been awhile.

I’m through the second of four parts, and I’ll give you a full report when I’m done later in the week.

But I’d like to share one tidbit from the first episode, which I watched on Monday.

A recording of a phone conversation between President Kennedy and Bobby was played. RFK, ever his brother’s campaign manager, informed JFK that he had dropped in the Gallup poll — from 76 percent to 70 percent. Jack says he had read the papers, but had missed that (that’s how people learned things back then, children — they read newspapers).

They didn’t act like it was the end of the world, but it was still a cause for concern — mainly because they’d dropped six points in a month. Bobby started the conversation by saying, “God… the poll…”

I thought maybe I had heard it wrong. A president with an approval rating of 70 percent? A number that high seemed impossible. Especially since, a moment before, we had seen footage of a Kennedy detractor reminding us that “He got elected by just a gnat’s eyebrow.”

So I looked it up. And not only was that probably right, but 70 percent was Kennedy’s average during his time in office, according to Gallup. It was the highest average in history (that is, since Gallup starting measuring when Truman was president), easily topping Eisenhower in second place at 65 percent.

For comparison, Barack Obama’s average was 47.9 percent. The last president we had with an average over 50 percent was Bill Clinton at 55.

Wow. Imagine that. Seventy percent. And Bobby was concerned about it, at least a little…

Galup averages

36 thoughts on “JFK and RFK worried, a little, about poll drop to 70 percent

  1. Mark Stewart

    I’ve been binge-watching a Netflix series – Babylon Berlin.

    Wow! It’s a eerie examination of the Wiemar Republic, and by extension I think our own moment in time. The cautionary tail of the abyss remains ever present on screen, but it’s more subtle than one would ever expect of American cinematography. Social/political decay is a menace to any society; we tend to focus on the morality of other’s lifestyles when we bemoan “social decay”, but it’s the immorality of calculated thought that dooms civilizations.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I’ve been wondering whether I want to watch that. On your recommendation, I might give it a try.

      For the next couple of days, I’ll be occupied with Bobby. And I’m also making my way through “Lost in Space” and the new season of “Bosch.” But maybe after those…

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      Not sure I agree with you on the general observation, “we tend to focus on the morality of other’s lifestyles when we bemoan ‘social decay’….”

      That’s not so much what comes to mind to me, although I suppose it’s related.

      I think more in terms of our lack of social cohesion, which to some extent is rooted in an inward-turning, in which people tend only to care about, and trust, “me and mine.” Basically, a breaking-apart of the society based in increased hostility, or at least apathy, toward the “other”…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        A good example being the chasm between people who voted for Trump and would do it again, and those of us who could not imagine doing that under any circumstances…

        1. Doug Ross

          That you keep implying (at best) that those people are idiots doesn’t help with all the kumbaya effect you seek. You’ve been on a personal mission to demean anyone and anything related to Trump for two years.

          Things were so great back in the RFK and JFK days… everyone loved one another. No strife, no tension, no disagreements. Just stable men reading the morning paper, patting little Joey and Jill on the head, and heading off to their jobs while Mommy stayed home washing dishes and vacuuming the floors. Meanhwhile it took less than a decade to go from 70% approval for the President to 49%. Had he lived, Kennedy would likely have seen his approval drop as the Vietnam war escalated.

          2018 is 1968.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            “You’ve been on a personal mission to demean anyone and anything related to Trump for two years.”

            You’re joking, right? Donald Trump doesn’t need a bit of help from me when it comes to demeaning himself and the office he soils daily by occupying it.

            I haven’t had to make the slightest effort.

            And “personal mission?” Personal? I have to think that people who think I have some kind of unusual animus toward Donald J. must not be reading a lot of national commentary. Every serious voice across the political spectrum — conservative, liberal and centrist — writes daily about this guy in terms that make me seem fairly tame. Newspapers, desperately trying to find SOME voices that don’t condemn him, have started running writers no one has ever heard of (and when you read their stuff you know WHY you hadn’t heard of them before, because it tends to be weak).

            I read the serious writers every morning, eviscerating Trump in no uncertain terms, and then if I say “boo” to Trump, you and Richard and Claus have a cow about it, like you’d never run into anyone who had a problem with Trump before…

            I’m thinking about starting a daily feature here, called “You thing I’VE got a problem with Trump?” I could run the very best lines written by the nation’s best opinion writers, the really choice zingers, about the person currently occupying the Oval Office. Maybe it will give y’all some perspective…

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              There’s this strange expectation you seem to have, like if I or anyone other writer has written once about what an outrage it is that this vulgarian occupies the same post as Washington, Lincoln and FDR, that should be it. That the next day we should just go about our business and forget about it.

              But every single day that we get up, it’s just as much of an outrage as it was the day before, if not more so. And it would be grossly irresponsible to our country to pretend otherwise…

            2. Mark Stewart

              Doug is rationalizing his vote – still. The thing is Trump the candidate was the same as what we have now with Trump the President; a brittle blowhard and a pathological liar. They used to call that being Personality Disordered. But now we are supposed to normalize his appearance in Presidential politics? Because he climbed up onto the stage? No, that does not make him a President.

              Donald Trump is going to go down as the worst, most destructive President in US history. It is likely – we all need to hope for our children and their children – that there is no one who challenges him for his dunce cap. If there is, then we are as doomed as the Roman Empire.

              The only salvation here would be if the vast majority can come together and agree we can – and must – do better. Country before party. The GOP will have to come to that conclusion; but they will… eventually. The only real question is will it be too late?

              1. Doug Ross

                “Doug is rationalizing his vote – still.”

                Huh? I didn’t vote for him and never would vote for him. I vote Libertarian – the only sane vote in the cesspool of government run by Democrats and Republicans.

                So far, Trump has been average as a President and off the charts as a thorn in the side of people who liked their government run as a complicit charade played by characters in the media and political elite class.

                Remember when Trump was going to start World War III ANY DAY NOW? Remember when Trump was mentally unfit to be President (going to be diagnosed ANY DAY NOW)? Remember when he was going to be impeached ANY DAY NOW? Remember when Mueller was going to bring him down ANY DAY NOW?

                It’s insane how many people live their lives jumping from one THIS IS IT FOLKS hysteria to another.

                Meanwhile, the rest of the world carries on. You may now return to your pathological Trump derangement syndrome…

                1. Brad Warthen Post author

                  Doug, you continue to puzzle me. Show me where I said any of these things:

                  Remember when Trump was going to start World War III ANY DAY NOW? Remember when Trump was mentally unfit to be President (going to be diagnosed ANY DAY NOW)? Remember when he was going to be impeached ANY DAY NOW? Remember when Mueller was going to bring him down ANY DAY NOW?

                  So what are you talking about?

                  On the contrary, I’ve said repeatedly that I doubt Mueller can save us from Trump — even if the investigation leads to impeachment (and anyone who thinks impeachment is anywhere on our near horizon is seriously delusional). I’ve said repeatedly that the problem is less Trump and more the horrific fact that millions of Americans would vote for him. That sickness in the body politic — a radical departure from ANYTHING that ever happened before in our history (up to 2016, American voters had shown the wisdom and maturity to reject such bizarre outliers).

                  And I worry that we may never recover, that if Americans could do such an insane thing once, we may never get back on an even keel.

                  But let me drop that subject and say this: Anyone who could possibly write the words “Trump has been average as a President” is profoundly, shockingly out of touch with both historical and present reality.

                  There are two universes in which presidents of the United State exist: There’s the one where you find the first 44, and they are spread all across that universe in terms of temperament and qualifications, but all of them are more or less fit for the job.

                  Then there is the universe in which Donald Trump exists.

                  Or lets try another visualization. Say they are all placed on a spectrum of fitness for the job. They would be widely spaced, with people like Lincoln, FDR and (just to pick a less obvious one) John Quincy Adams on the highly-qualified end, and James Buchanan and Andrew Johnson on the other end.

                  Still, Lincoln might be closer to Buchanan on that spectrum than Trump is to Buchanan. Not only is Trump not “average;” he’s not in the same arena with the rest…

                2. Mark Stewart

                  I didn’t specifically mean your vote. Who you voted for in the last election is immaterial. My point was that you continue to try to rationalize the impact of this election (or, in your mind, the non-impact) and place it in a continuum of normalcy. This is not where we are. Every single day Trump reinforces the certainty of that assessment himself.

                  What we need – need as a country – is for 70%+ of the people to understand how truly awful Trump is; and how corrosive he is to our Republic. It amazes me that more than half of Republicans are not also already to that place; and I would hazard a guess that most independents have come to that realization. Actually, amaze is not the word to use. However, wake up they must; or else the midterm elections will be a political disaster for the GOP…

                  While it is terrible outcome for the country, it seems obvious that the midterm elections are going to basically be a referendum on the impeachment of Trump. If you want to bet against me, go ahead.

                3. Doug Ross

                  Mark – so when you said this “Doug is rationalizing his vote – still”, you were talking about some other Doug?

                  Meanwhile, today Trump met with the Army football team — they all (black and white) appeared to enjoy the experience.

                  I keep asking for all the examples of the horrible things Trump has done and they pretty much come down to tweets. Policy-wise, he’s had some wins and losses. Good on taxes, bad on spending. His staff turnover is probably the biggest problem he’s had. That’s inexperience showing through.

                  Democrats are still playing the stall game as Republicans did with Obama – same tactics, same hypocritical behavior. They absolutely CANNOT let Trump have any good news before November.. they are just as selfishly driven as the Republicans were.

                  Meanwhile, Lindsey Graham is either certifiably insane or a historical panderer of the highest order or else Trump isn’t the horror show in real life that those of you who can only process spoonfed media believe.

                  It’s great that my message of waiting to assess Trump on what he does versus what he says has continued to prove me right for more than a year while all you “sky is falling” guys keep going back to the hysetria well for another bucket of “it’s the end of the world” blather. It’s not the end of the world. It’s different. It’s different because Trump won. And since I can’t say why he won without be accused of not “moving on”, I’ll leave it at that. He won. Deal with it.

                  1. Brad Warthen Post author

                    “He won. Deal with it.

                    That’s precisely what I’m doing, unlike some people who don’t get what the fuss is about and want to ignore the problem.

                    The truth — the truth of THIS universe, not the alternative one in which half of our presidents were worse than this (which is what it means when you say he’s “average”) — must be confronted directly…

          2. Phillip

            Probably true, Doug, except that I don’t think JFK would have continued and escalated the US presence in Vietnam to the extent Johnson did once more reports arrived of the futility of that course of action. (Of course there’s no way to prove or disprove that…but that’s sort of the gut feeling I have after watching all of the Ken Burns’ series last fall).

            In any case the polling sample was small in terms of time in JFK’s case, less than 3/4 of one term. I see from the table above that the only other average over 60% approval was a one-term Prez, George HW Bush.

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              A lot of people who want to guard JFK’s memory like to say he wouldn’t have escalated. The time that I was privileged to meet and interview Ted Sorensen, he chose to remember it that way.

              But Bobby Kennedy did not. In one of the clips in the second episode, which I saw this morning, he clearly states that LBJ inherited it, in a way that sort of lets Johnson off the hook. This was presented in the context of Bobby running against him in 1968, although I’m not positive the clip was from that time period.

              Seems to me, though, that a Democrat running an insurgency against an incumbent of his own party (in large part based on the war as an issue), or even considering doing so, would have had every motive in the world to say, “My brother wouldn’t have done this; it’s all Johnson…”

        2. Richard

          One question, is Hillary going to run against Trump again? That’d be a big reason to vote for him again.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            I find that hard to imagine.

            Wait a minute: Is THAT why you Trump fans keep bringing her up? You think she’s RUNNING again? That would explain a lot of inexplicable behavior…

            1. Doug Ross

              I don’t think she’s NOT running yet. There are plenty of political consultants who are probably begging her to run so they can have jobs in 2019-2020.

              All she has to do is say it. “I’m never running again.” Until she does, she is the face of the Democratic Party and deserves whatever scorn is heaped upon her. I fully expect her to think she is going to play a big role in selecting the next candidate for 2020. It will be interesting to see who tries to line up her endorsement (a.k.a The Kiss of Death)

  2. Claus2

    They didn’t have the media watching them 24/7 and reporting everything they said or did. Also, is there anyone in Washington that has a 70% approval rating? The country has learned to distrust politicians as they do used car salesmen.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Yes, and why have they learned that? Because, as you say, “the media” have taught them that distrust.

      As I have said many times, we bear a lot of the responsibility of sowing distrust of politics among the public. Although, it’s a little hard for me to imagine how we might have avoided doing that.

      People complain — or at least, they used to — about news being “negative.” Well, yeah. If 10,000 cars travel down Main Street without mishap, that is not news. But one multiple-car pileup in which several people are killed is NEWS. If you don’t report that, you’re not doing your job.

      It’s the same with politics. The bad decisions, the people indicted for corruption, are by definition the news, because they are the departures from the norm. The press has a DUTY to report that stuff, and if we don’t, you are quite right to accuse us of not doing our jobs.

      But over time, readers start to think that’s all there is in politics — corruption and stupidity. And they get sour on the whole business.

      It’s easy to report the news. It’s harder to give readers perspective, and help people understand that if it IS news, it’s an exception to the rule…

      1. Doug Ross

        Politics has always been corrupt. Go re-read Hamilton. We just have more sources for the truth to be presented rather than filtered. JFK was protected by the press because the goal was to keep up the “Camelot” narrative that people were enchanted with. The media then was selling their version of the truth for the same reason the media sells it today — $$$$.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          That’s right. There’s never, ever been a decent person on the planet. EVERYONE is and has always been motivated entirely by money, and is perfectly willing to cheat and steal to get it.

          We know that’s what you think, Doug. You’ve made it plain.

          But we don’t have to agree with you. I can’t, because I see the actual world, and I see how wrong you are…

          1. Doug Ross

            Politics is about money and power. And the people who are in that arena are driven by it. It’s a multi-billion dollar business for the media to have Trump in office. It’s worth trillions to lobbyists to spend billions on courting (not “educating”) politicians. And the percentage of politicians who fall victim to their own greed far exceeds the level you see in any other profession.

            Not EVERYONE in politics is corrupt. Just most. There are some virtuous politicians — but you hate most of them. Rand and Ron Paul for two. I think Romney was ethical. Same for Obama. But it’s a small minority.

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              You have this backwards: “Politics is about money and power. And the people who are in that arena are driven by it.”

              No. People who are driven by that go into the private sector, unless they are just complete idiots…

              1. Doug Ross

                Except the people in the private sector aren’t taking my money by force. They have to earn it.

                Politics is organized crime that pays better.

          2. Richard

            “That’s right. There’s never, ever been a decent person on the planet. EVERYONE is and has always been motivated entirely by money, and is perfectly willing to cheat and steal to get it.”

            Now you’re seeing things correctly. I knew you’d come around sooner or later.

      2. Richard

        So as a reporter you weren’t looking for that one big story to anchor your career upon?

        1. Brad Warthen Post author


          Of course, I was only a reporter for a couple of years and an editor for more than 30, but nope.

          As I used to say, as an editor, to reporters who were going for the Big Story and neglecting their beats to do it — I’d like to see you get on base more, instead of always swinging for the fence.

          Of course, that metaphor makes less sense now, in the Brave New World of launch angles

  3. bud

    I keep asking for all the examples of the horrible things Trump has done and they pretty much come down to tweets. Policy-wise, he’s had some wins and losses.

    Doug, you actually have a point here. Brad and others definitely do focus waaaay too much on style over substance. But there is a hell of a lot of (bad) substance with Trump and much potential for even more. Here are a few:

    1. His immigration policies are both irrational and cruel. Not to mention bigoted. His attempted Muslim ban keeps getting shot down in the courts. His flip flopping on DACA is a national disgrace. He refuses to allow any significant number of Syrians into the country even as we bomb the place. His legacy on this will resonate in a profoundly negative way for decades.
    2. He failed to do anything useful on healthcare. Obamacare lives on but with a much much reduced degree of effectiveness. Lives are being shattered by this disgraceful embrace of big medicine. The result is more opioids, less treatment, more suicides, shortened life expectancy and a continued decline in health compared to the rest of the word. US life expectancy was once the highest in the world. Now we wallow in the 30s, about the same as Costa Rica and Cuba. That’s more than 4 years behind Japan.
    3. The national disgrace of yet another huge tax cut for the wealthy. This much ballyhooed “success” really does nothing for middle and working class Americans and in a few years will actually raise their taxes. But it will explode the national debt and crowd out investment in the private sector. So much for fiscal responsibility. It’s worth noting that Republicans attempted to run on this issue but it is proving unpopular with voters.
    4. Despite record production of oil, gasoline prices are on the rise. Even with relaxed environmental standards for drilling motorists are seeing no benefits. This is a result of Trump’s poisoning the well on trade. The Saudi’s seized the opportunity to cut production. Supply and demand has resulted in the rise.
    5. Interest rates are creeping up. Student loan debt will be more expensive as will credit cards. Auto sales are already slipping a bit. With higher borrowing rates this will only get worse.
    6. Banking regulations are being relaxed and as we’ve seen with Wells Fargo and other big banks this can only increase the scamming perpetuated against bank customers as well as threatening the housing industry again.
    7. Perhaps the most odious Trump disaster is the horror that is being perpetrated on our environment. Mr. Swamp Man himself, Scott Pruitt, is repealing effective regulations on water polluters that will reverse decades of progress. The denial of the basic science of global warming threatens our progeny’s very existence.
    8. One style-related issue is worth noting. Trump is clearly dividing this country into tribes like never before. The result is extreme polarization and even acts of violence. Crimes against Muslims for one have increased sharply since he took office. Clearly the president sets the tone. This president is setting a very dangerous tone that is causing real damage.

    Average president? That’s a good one Doug. This man is a national disgrace that goes far beyond his disgusting tweets. He even has a very real shot at becoming the worst president in history.

  4. bud

    The presidential approval rating chart Brad shows here is extremely misleading. W was certainly not a more popular president than Obama. What drove his numbers up were two of his biggest disasters, 9-11 and the Iraq quagmire. People rallied around the flag after those two incidents. What is really notable is how very unpopular W was at the end of his presidency. His approval was at historic lows. The RealClear average was 29.0 by January 2009. The comparable number for Obama was 57.2.

  5. Doug Ross

    So if two people with VERY different political views come up with a similar opinion, who is living in the alternative universe?

    You need to convince us that aside from Donald Trump’s tweets and words, the country is worse off today that it was at the start of the recession. Bush’s failures led to Obama. Bush’s failures were probably instrumental in why America didn’t want another legacy President like Hillary in 2008.

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