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What Were JFK's Chances of Winning Reelection in 1964? How Did This Influence the Plotters?

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What were JFK's chances of being reelected in 1964? This question has a direct bearing on our theories about the motives behind the assassination. If even some of the plotters believed that JFK had a good chance of being reelected, this would have made them determined to kill him before the election. On the other hand, if JFK's reelection chances looked questionable or unlikely, this could suggest that the plotters' motives included factors other than just fears about what JFK would do after the election, such as revenge.

Starting in early 1963, JFK's approval rating began to drop. By September 1963, his approval rating had dropped to the lowest of his presidency, although it was still above 50 percent. However, this decline represented a drop of over 20 points compared to early 1962. JFK's disapproval rating climbed steadily throughout 1963. Historian David Coleman:

          By September, his approval rating had slid to the mid-50s, the lowest of his presidency. A small rebound of 2 points in the following months did not establish a strong pattern. Significantly, the disapproval rating climbed steadily throughout the year, which might have posted an intensifying problem had Kennedy lived to contest the 1964 presidential election. (https://historyinpieces.com/research/jfks-presidential-approval-ratings)

JFK won the 1960 election by the narrowest margin in U.S. history, winning fewer states than Nixon won (winning 23 states to Nixon's 27 states) but winning in the Electoral College anyway. JFK barely won LBJ's home state of Texas, winning by only 46,000 votes out of 2.2 million votes cast. He won Illinois by an even slimmer margin, and arguably with the help of voter fraud by the Daley machine, edging out Nixon by a mere 0.18% of the vote, or by 9,000 votes out of 2.7 million votes cast.

JFK's support for civil rights reform, especially his noble and necessary interventions against segregation in the South, had infuriated Southern voters. JFK would have lost the 1960 election without the Deep South states of Texas, Georgia, South Carolina, and Louisiana, and without the Upper South states of Arkansas and North Carolina. But his chances of winning those Southern states in 1964 would not have been good.

Even in the sympathy-martyr-vote-dominated election of 1964, JFK's successor, LBJ, lost the Southern states of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana by large margins. And this happened even though Goldwater seemingly did everything he could to throw the election, since he had been drafted as the GOP candidate against his express wishes, and since, like everyone else, he recognized that LBJ would receive enormous voter sympathy as JFK's successor in the aftermath of the assassination. 

If JFK had not been assassinated, he may well have faced Richard Nixon in a rematch in 1964. Even after the assassination, Nixon considered entering the GOP primary. If there'd been no assassination, Nixon may well have sought and won the GOP nomination. 

If JFK had faced Nixon in 1964, he most likely would have lost most of the South, and Nixon could have won the election by a comfortable margin in the Electoral College.

One would think that in 1963 the plotters recognized that JFK's chances for reelection in 1964 were hardly a safe bet. Yet, they decided to kill him a year before the election. They could have simply ruined his reelection chances by revealing his serial adultery. Such a disclosure in that era would have forced JFK to resign and ended his political career. Or, the plotters could have poisoned JFK and made it look like he had died from natural causes. Instead, they chose to publicly execute him.  

Edited by Michael Griffith
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