#OTD20 | September 26, 1960

The First Televised Presidential Debate: Kennedy vs. Nixon

September 26, 1960: John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon participate in the first-ever televised presidential debate, forever changing the landscape of American politics.

The debate not only catapults Kennedy into the national spotlight but also sets the precedent for the vital role of television in political campaigning.

In a Chicago studio, the youthful Democratic nominee John F. Kennedy and the experienced Republican Vice President Richard Nixon come face-to-face. Nixon, recovering from a recent illness, appears pale and nervous, while Kennedy looks tanned and confident.

As millions of Americans watch from their living rooms, the candidates spar over domestic issues and foreign policy. The nation is spellbound, and opinion polls immediately reflect a surge in support for Kennedy.

It's clear the medium of television adds a new layer of complexity to political campaigning. Image, charisma, telegenic appeal, and media savvy now become as important as a candidate’s platform and record.

The Nixon-Kennedy debates mark a significant turning point, showing that the medium is, in some ways, the message. Political campaigns would never be the same again.

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The Kennedy-Nixon debate is featured in our standards-based program, "The Sixties," from "America in the 20th Century."


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Additional Resources

Access more information from Media Rich Learning and curated off-site sources.

National Constitution Center

"How the Kennedy-Nixon debate changed the world of politics" from the National Constitution Center website.

Commission on Presidential Debates

Read a transcript of the 26 September 1960 Kennedy-Nixon debate.

U.S. News and World Report

Read a recap of the Kennedy-Nixon rebate.


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