How did an under-experienced, under-qualified younger man beat someone who was extremely qualified with an extraordinary resume? John F. Kennedy was not qualified, he was not experienced, and he was naive. How could he possibly beat Richard Nixon, a man with so much previous experience that one would think he was a no brainer?. The only thing that Nixon didn't have was the image, which ended up being way more important than any kind of political stance. The election of 1960 was unlike any other in that people began to place their votes not on substance but on the image.
As the Baby Boomers were beginning to grow up, there was a whole new market that presidential candidates had to cater to. The Baby Boomer generation had already proven to be different than the previous. The Boomers had begun to show signs of supporting what seemed like radical progressive changes. Boomers didn't want the same, they wanted different. They didn't want another old president, someone that wasn't going to invoke change (JFK library 2019). JFK came to them like a knight on a white horse.
Not only was the voting pool extremely young and “new” but also afraid. People in this new generation had grown up in school with animations like “Duck and Cover”. This animation depicts a turtle that constantly is told to duck and cover in case an atomic bomb is dropped near him. This was regularly practiced at school. The idea that a nuclear bomb could go off at any time was what seemed like a very real possibility. JFK knew very little information about how much nuclear power Russia actually had, all he knew was that the people were afraid and that it would be easy points for him. Kennedy came out as a strong cold warrior (JFK 1960 Defense and disarmament: Defense). Nixon, being the previous vice president, was more educated. In Nixon's vice presidency there were multiple government spy crafts over the Soviet Union taking pictures. These pictures captured images of the Soviet Union military bases witch had way less nuclear ammunition than we previously assumed. With his knowledge, Nixon did not depict himself as a cold warrior. Nixon Knew that the Soviets were not a threat, but he could not release that knowledge to the public. Had Nixon leaked this information, he would have exposed himself and the previous president for spying. Because Nixon was not a cold warrior, hell-bent on defeating the Soviets, he was perceived as weak, small, scared. This was not a good look.
Looking weak is never a good look for a presidential candidate, but it was especially detrimental in this specific election. JFK was hot stuff, he was good looking, always wore the nicest suits, he put makeup on for events that were televised, he was rich and powerful, even before he became political, and he wasn't tall but he did stand one inch taller than Nixon, making him seem even more dominating. All of these things would have been such a minimal difference if not for the introduction of Live televised debates. These live televised debates brought the election straight into your living room, people began to see images of the presidential candidates that were (what seemed) authentic. As previously mentioned JFK was cool. From the comfort of your own chair, Kennedy seemed as if nothing could phase him, not even the hardest of questions or the lowest of jabs. On-air Kennedy dominated Nixon, his ability to freeball any question that was thrown at him was unseen at this time (Kennedy-Nixon Debate 1960). Although Nixon was anything but new in politics, he wasn't used to these pop questions. In his past televised appearances, Nixon had been very curated, every motion was planned, every interview question he knew was coming, he stayed away from on-air improvised answers. Most of his Televised events displayed his incredible ability for speech, things where he could remain two steps ahead of the media. Nixons Evasion of unplanned television proved costly.
All this to say, Nixon was a good candidate, he had past political experiences, and was a public speaker. Nixon just wasn't meant to be this time around. Because of the introduction of the Television JFK was able to steal the election and become the president of the United States. JFK was too good looking for America to pass up. The 1960 Presidential Election changed how other future candidates would strategize there race for president. To this day the taller candidate tends to win over the shorter. candidates will ware certain shoes that make them seem taller and makeup is now as essential as the actual debate itself. These things wouldn't bee so important if they hadn't been proven to be effective in the 1960 election.