Why did JFK lose to Nixon in York County?

fair1This poster helped draw people to the York Fair to hear Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kennedy speak in 1960. But Republican Richard Nixon drew more votes from York countians than Kennedy. Background posts: Ted Kennedy’s visit to York comes almost 50 years after JFK’s, Richard Nixon’s visit to his namesake park sparks memories and Richard Nixon’s visits seared into York countians’ minds.

 

 

York County solidly backed Republican Richard M. Nixon over John F. Kennedy in 1960, with the tally coming in at 55,109 to 38,710.
That came after Kennedy made a hit with his York Fair visit just before the election. JFK won the nationally televised debate, the debate some say was decided by Nixon’s 5 o’clock shadow and choice of a gray suit on black and white TV.
So why the Nixon win in York County? …


It wasn’t because a Democrat can’t win the presidency in York County, historically a Democratic enclave. Only 12 years before, Dem Harry S. Truman beat Thomas Dewey, 33,110 to 32,501. And in 1964, Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson trounced Barry Goldwater, 57,366 to 32,846.
Harry McLaughlin, reporting on Kennedy’s York Fair visit, conjectured that many in the York community were concerned about JFK’s Catholicism. Further, Nixon’s parents had lived for years in Menges Mills, outside Spring Grove, for years.
In their study of presidential voting patterns, York College’s G.A. Mellander and Carl E. Hatch tied the outcome in 1960 to their overarching conclusions:

1. Yorkers vote against presidential candidates who are inordinately idealistic and not practical.
2. Yorkers vote for presidential candidates who strike a happy medium between the extremes of too much laissez-faireism and too much federal intervention into local affairs.

They concluded that Yorkers voted for a “moderate” Nixon instead of Kennedy, viewed as a federal interventionist.
They compared the 1960 election to the 1968 contest between moderate Nixon, George Wallace on the right and Hubert Humphrey on the left.
This wouldn’t be the first or last time that York countians voted contra to their counterparts nationally.
One hundred years before, York County voters rejected Abraham Lincoln in favor of his Democratic opponents.
(Poster courtesy of York County Heritage Trust.)

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In this photo submitted by a reader, candidate John F. Kennedy arrives at the 1960 York Fair with state trooper Leslie Jackson at the wheel and national Democratic Party Chairman John Bailey at his side.

About Jim McClure

Editor of the York Daily Record/Sunday News, ydr.com and its many digital products. Journalism/history blogger: yorktownsquare.com. Author or co-author of seven York County, Pa., history books.
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