Poll: belief in a JFK conspiracy slips slightly but remains high

The belief in a JFK conspiracy has slipped slightly, according a poll commissioned by the Associated Press.  The survey found 59 percent of Americans think multiple people were involved in a conspiracy to kill the president, while 24 percent think Oswald acted alone. A 2003 Gallup poll found that 75 percent of Americans felt there was a conspiracy.

But what is most striking about these poll numbers is how similar they are to what pollsters found 50 years ago.

A poll of 1,300 people taken by the National Opinion Research Center in the week after Kennedy’s assassination found that 24 percent of respondents thought one man was responsible while 62 percent thought “other people were involved too.”

In Dallas 66 percent of respondents thought the assassination was the work of more than one person. Only 15 percent thought it was the action of only one person.

The numbers are a reminder that the belief in a JFK conspiracy did not originate in the publications of conspiracy theorists. There were no published conspiracy theories a week after the crime. The belief in conspiracy originated in the circumstances of the crime.

(These figures are found in “The Kennedy Assassination and the American Public: Social Communication in Crisis,” edited by Bradley S. Greenberg and Edwin B. Parker, Stanford University Press, 1965.)

7 thoughts on “Poll: belief in a JFK conspiracy slips slightly but remains high”

  1. Mark Groubert

    “while 24 percent think Oswald acted alone.” REALLY? You have fallen into the same trap laid put by Lone nutters for years. There is no mention of the name Oswald in any poll. It simply says one man. You have filled in “Oswald” as the one man. Why would you do that?

  2. The public’s immediate reaction, especially after Ruby shot Oswald, was to suspect a conspiracy. But they knew almost nothing then.

    Can you imagine the public reaction in the wake of the assassination if they had known the kind of information that was concealed until the 1970s–that there was an existing conspiracy involving the CIA, anti-Castro Cubans, and the mafia to assassinate a head of state?

    It’s that existing configuration that makes a conspiracy to kill Kennedy so plausible. All that had to happen was for that secret grouping to redirect its purpose. And that grouping had motive, means, and opportunity.

    I’m not 100% sold on conspiracy. But I don’t understand how some can scoff at the very notion, when you consider the secret and ruthless grouping that was assembled to kill Castro. The kinds of factors that otherwise might make conspiracy implausible–such as the need for unlikely bedfellows to trust each other in a dangerous enterprise–are already resolved.

  3. From the start, the press was in la-la land regarding conspiracy — at complete variance from the public.

    The press immediately convicted Oswald. And then upheld the conviction. Over the years, CBS did a flawed re-enactment (1967); TIME magazine never wavered in its support of the Warren Report; Peter Jennings of ABC assured Americans there was no credible evidence of conspiracy.

    The American People do not know the details surrounding the assassination, by and large. But by the same measure they’re people of commonsense.

    The Oswald-did-it-alone conclusion flunks the commonsense test.

  4. What convinced most people there was a conspiracy in late 1963 was that Ruby killed Oswald in the basement of DPD headquarters, live on national TV.

    One doesn’t have to be a student of the assassination to smell a rat.

    1. Agreed.

      I think the numbers are down because more and more the expression “conspiracy buff” has taken on a negative connotation signifying beliefs that are irrational.

      It’s a fundamental error of attribution to seek to reduce the complexities of the life to simple solutions and a lone gunman is the simplest solution. Especially when conspiracy notions about the JFK assassination require open-mindedness and a willingness to sort through a maze of facts and data.

  5. One thing that made many people suspect a conspiracy was the shooting of Oswald just two days after the assassination.Many felt it was done to silence him before he blurted out anything about any possible associates.

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