Obama and the Kennedy Effect

One of my favorite stories about American politics (besides Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72) is about JFK, and his popularity bounce after getting elected, then assasinated.  in 1960 Kennedy won a very close election, by about 100,000 votes.  But, magically, by the time he was inaugerated as President, 60% or so of Americans told pollsters that they voted for him.  Then, after his assasination in 1963, about 80% of people polled said they voted for him.  Somone was lying.

Obama won fairly decisively this year, but the same thing is happening: a low to mid 50’s percent win in the popular vote magically turned into a 65% approval rating (acknowledging that people polled is a different group than voters). It shows just how successful Obama was in posturing himself as ‘historic’ in the post-election aftermath, and the popular utility of his personal narrative in winning himself political capital.

The bump demonstrates the very different rhetorical posture Obama must adopt as President, rather than Candidate, and also forecasts the difficulties he might have in re-mobilizing his 3 million or so subscribers.  I think Obama’s need to make general, more cautious appeals once in power suggests that his ‘online army’ will perhaps go rogue and begin leading their own campaigns, rather than continuing to rally behind the more pragmatic rhetoric of President Obama.


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