In October 1960, with a presidential election approaching, William Rukeyser ’61 provided PAW readers with an overview of the political mood on campus. Students had relatively little enthusiasm for the youthful Democrat John F. Kennedy, a Harvard grad who’d briefly been a Princeton freshman in the 1930s. A Daily Princetonian poll of more than 1,000 undergraduates found that 70 percent backed Republican Richard Nixon. The 119 professors surveyed preferred Kennedy, with a 72 percent-28 percent split — and at the time, that mattered more: The voting age was 21, so most students couldn’t cast a ballot.
Kennedy had reportedly heard about the Prince poll. When he passed through town in September, he referenced the results, telling Hugh Wharton III ’61, director of the New Jersey Students for Kennedy, “You have your work cut out for you.”
Rukeyser wrote that on a campus not known for its political engagement, students seemed to show “a great deal of interest” in the presidential race: “Virtually every undergraduate has seen at least one of the televised Nixon-Kennedy debates and a healthy majority has watched them all. Whether this indicates a genuine political involvement or simply a passive delight in the pageantry and drama of it all is another question.”