Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Billy Sol Estes Case - Issues and Answers 1962

On July 2, 1962, at the height of the investigation, ABC's long-running Sunday talk show Issues and Answers featured a dialogue between Texas Attorney General Will Wilson and Senator Edmund Muskie, who was a member of the Senate Subcommittee investigating the Estes scandal. Follow the link to hear the program.

(The Shoes of Billy Sol Estes - no doubt the Alligator had other plans.)

What had to be one of the biggest scandals of the 1960's centered around one Billy Sol Estes whose influence and fraud wandered through many high places in Washington, allegedly all the way up to the office of Lyndon Johnson. Estes was the subject of a Senate Sub-committee investigation on political corruption which led to a startling number of discoveries and an even more startling number of "suicides" in the process. Although Estes was convicted of fraud and corruption charges and sentenced to prison, his conviction was overturned by a Supreme Court decision that ruled the massive amount of publicity the investigation garnered made a fair trial impossible.

Still, the allegations were serious enough about LBJ to force Kennedy to consider dropping him as running mate in 1964. And he probably would have, had fate not intervened.

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Tuesday, February 3, 2009

A Look At JFK's Popularity Polls by Debra Conway

Question: Do you approve or disapprove of the way President Kennedy is handling his job as President?

I've read and heard it claimed that one of the reasons JFK went on his final tour, including Texas, was because his popularity had fallen so severely. In fact, one well-known person in the Dallas research community claimed Kennedy's popularity was even down to 20%. I've tried to find out exactly what was the truth and here are a few examples of what I've found, that while President Kennedy’s popularity polls were on a slow decline by 1963, there is more than enough data to show that one Dallas researcher was wrong.

Beginning with TIME Magazine's article (Jan. 5, 1962) awarding President Kennedy “Time's Person of the Year,”(1) which stated, “In the latest Gallup poll, 78% of the American people said that they approved of the way he is doing his job. But personal popularity, as Kennedy well knows, is not always reflected in widespread support of public policy. To translate popularity into support is the job of the politician — and the job to which Kennedy has come increasingly to devote his time and energy." These statements would prove themselves to be true of Kennedy's presidency as his popularity averaged in the 70s for 1961-1962 during some of the most trying and dangerous situations he faced.

In the St. Petersburg Times, March 1, 1963, there is a story headlined "JFK Popularity Drops Six Points In A Month"(2). The article stated, "In the latest nationwide Gallup Poll, 70% of voters say they approve of the way Kennedy is handling his job as President." Only a few months earlier, in January, it was 76%. "The 6-point drop-off is one of the sharpest declines in Kennedy's popularity during any one-month period since he took office."

What category of voter changed their opinion? The next paragraph makes it clear that the Democrats polled (surprisingly including the Southern Dixie-crats) did not change their opinion at all, “Kennedy has lost ground sharply since January with independent voters, while holding firm among his fellow Democrats.” What caused the loss of confidence? According to the writer it was “a month marked by partisan crossfire over the Cuba situation.”

In fact, in his book Popular Images of American Presidents by William C. Spragens, in the chapter titled "Popular Images of JFK In Polling Data"(3), Spragens wrote “a source told the author that toward the end of his tenure, Kennedy was much concerned about his decline in popularity after the 1962 [midterm] elections...[while] the average popularity rating of President Kennedy was 70 percent. His high point - 83% - was reached just after the Bay of Pigs failure April-May 1961 (after seeing one popularity poll, JFK quipped, ‘Jesus, it's like Ike. The worse you do, the better they like you.’(4) ) while the low was September 1963, just after the Civil Rights March on Washington, at 56%.” Another low, Spragens reminds us, was in October 1962, after President Kennedy informed the world that the Soviet Union was building secret missile bases in Cuba and everyone held their breath for 13 long days. But one month later, November 1962, his popularity was back up to 72%, in January 1963, 75%.

However, the polling of Texas showed a different trend. In the Houston Chronicle, published Nov. 22, 1963 and headlined, "Chronicle Poll Sees Goldwater Over Kennedy; Conservatism Would Carry Republican in Critical Texas Areas" the article claimed, "Sen. Barry Goldwater's conservatism would carry him to a victory over President John F. Kennedy if the presidential election were held today in Texas. If a predictable 2.5 million votes were cast, Goldwater would roll up about 1.3 million to Kennedy's 1.2 million. That would mean a margin of 52 percent for Goldwater to 48 percent for Kennedy, a statewide survey by the Chronicle indicated Thursday. The decisive manner in which Goldwater apparently would take Texas is indicated by comparing his anticipated vote with the presidential vote of 1960, when Kennedy downed Republican Richard Nixon by 46,000 votes for a 51-49 percent margin. General "disenchantment" with the Kennedy administration and an adverse reaction to his civil rights program are the two most frequently mentioned reasons for the President's decline in popularity in Texas. The picture could brighten for Kennedy by voting time next November..." Sadly, the day of this article's publication would be the end of days voters would have a choice to vote again for President Kennedy.

There are many more sources for Kennedy's popularity polls and how they specifically related to the tremendous challenges facing him in the years of his presidency. These are only a handful. An exceptional source is the American Presidency Project for the polls of 1961-1963:
8/29/63 - 62% and 10/09/63 - 58% where Kennedy's popularity leveled off and stayed until his death.

09/10/1963 09/10/1963 56
10/09/1963 10/09/1963 58
11/08/1963 11/13/1963 58

Comparing JFK’s popularity to other presidents, Spragens wrote, “JFK maintains a respectable level in comparison with all his successors.” And “Nonetheless, the average popularity rating of President Kennedy was 70 percent…when seven out of ten Americans look favorably on the president, that is a good showing.” According to records of Kennedy's own polls and the one's that are public, President Kennedy's concern about his popularity and his resulting effectiveness did drive him to campaign trips such as Florida and Texas that Fall of '63.

In conclusion, Kennedy’s popularity polls are pretty easy to follow, as they are based on exactly what TIME Magazine projected, his ability to translate popularity into support by devoting his time and energy. At the end 58% of American voters believed he was doing a good job. He was on the campaign trail as a leader, a strong defender of America, a conservationist and peace candidate. His lovely wife, still grieving over the loss of their infant son, was staunchly at his side. All he needed was time.


1. TIME “Person of the Year 1961”

2. St. Petersburg Times, "JFK Popularity Drops Six Points In A Month” March 1, 1963. See also my “Cuba-CIA-Mafia Timeline” for March 1963: Two-Tracks: JFK and the State Dept. begin their own two-track process towards Cuba. The Republican right adopts the cause of liberating Cuba from Castro.

3. Popular Images of American Presidents by William C. Spragens (Greenwood Press) 1988.

4. President Kennedy: Profile Of Power by Richard Reeves (Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group) 1994

5. Houston Chronicle, “Chronicle Poll Sees Goldwater Over Kennedy” Nov. 22, 1963. “Gallup Poll had indicated that 63 per cent of Americans disapproved of the March [on Washington], and that 38 per cent thought he was pushing too fast on integration.” William F. Buckley Jr., National Review, December 31, 1994.

6. American Presidency Project: Presidential Job Approval-JFK

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