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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

After JFK: Millennials Weigh In On America's Popular Presidents

Sarah Collins |
November 13, 2013 | 7:28 p.m. PST

Staff Reporter

John F. Kennedy captured a generation. He was known as the young people's president and one of the most beloved presidents of all time. As the fifty-year anniversary of his assassination approaches Nov. 22, Neon Tommy wanted to know what makes a president so appealing to a younger generation.

Is it his age? Promises of hope and change? His use of technology to connect with young voters?

According to The Atlantic, Americans consistently give John F. Kennedy the highest presidential approval rating since FDR. Neon Tommy wanted to find out if this statistic was also true for millennia's/college students, or if they preferred their own young, charismatic president. Millennia's overwhelmingly voted for Obama in 2008. And while their support waivered in 2012 – he won 60 percent of the millennial vote last year, compared to 66 percent in 2008 – he still is widely seen as a young person’s candidate.

We asked fifty students all under 25 who is their favorite President of all time.

The results were surprising:

Abraham Lincoln--18 percent

Theodore Roosevelt--14 percent

Ronald Reagan-- 14 percent

John F. Kennedy--14 percent 

Bill Clinton--10 percent

George Washington-- 12 percent

Franklin D. Roosevelt -- six percent

Thomas Jefferson--four percent 

Barack Obama-- two percent

James Buchanan--two percent 

Andrew Jackson--two percent 

Richard Nixon--two percent

Here's what some of them had to say about their choices:

Bill Clinton: "I used to love watching him make speeches when I was younger. He just seems like such a cool guy," said Andrew Frantela, a junior in college. "He was the first president in a while to have had the total debt above zero," college freshman Alex Chen said of the famous Democratic leader.

Ronald Reagan: "He was kind of the grandfather of America," said college sophomore Aaron Rifkind. "Everyone loved him regardless of party. His fiscal policies were beneficial for the country."

Theodore Roosevelt: "He's a total bada**," Julian Cantor, a second year MFA student, said of the nineteenth century president. Austin Mora, a junior in college, also commented: "He was very strong willed and he liked getting things done. I think one of the problems with presidents recently is that they don't get anything done and then we have a lame duck president for four to eight years."

Franklin Delano Roosevelt: "FDR did a lot of good long-term for things like infrastructure, electricity, public works, etc. and was also one of the first presidents to build diverse coalitions and he kind of spearheaded modern politics," said first year undergraduate Daniel Tartakovsky. Joey Cleveland, also a first year student, said he chose FDR because of "his ability to rally people behind his policies and his abilities to juggle domestic and foreign issues."

Abraham Lincoln: College freshman Guillaume de La Rocque chose the plurality winner "because he was against slavery, obviously."

And lastly, the most popular statistically, John F. Kennedy: Senior in high school Alison Bartkowski picked JFK "because he wasn't afraid to speak the truth." College sophomore Margaret Lenker said "JFK, because in second grade I went to the museum about him and specifically about the assassination. I was so fascinated."

The top four presidents, Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Reagan and Kennedy all made significant changes in American economics, social equality, and domestic and international policy.

Kennedy is seen as a martyr for all that Americans love about executive branch leaders, and his death was most tragic because his life and presidency were still in the earliest of stages when they were cut short. His first year in office was seen largely as a failure, but all of his achievements seemed to outweigh his setbacks and thus erase any major faults from the minds and hearts of the American people. In just three years of office, JFK consoled Americans during the Cuban Missile Crisis, bettered relations between the United States and the Soviet Union, created the Peace Corps, headed the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, established the "New Frontier", and spearheaded the Civil Rights movement within the government. 

Lincoln, the most chosen president, and JFK had many striking similarities. Both were assassinated after heavy involvement with civil rights, and both did not live to see the full effects of their efforts. It is unquestionable that the United States would be a very different place without these leaders, and it is why they remain largely popular among generations of Americans. 

So why did President Obama receive the short end of the stick? Though the millenials overwhelmingly voted for Obama during his two elections, his time in office has not achieved feats akin to those of Lincoln, Kennedy, Reagan, and Teddy Roosevelt. His health care plan has enrolled barely 27,000 people, and his approval rating is a lowly 39 percent. Perhaps he still has hope of being well-liked among future generations, however. Most presidents have increased popularity once they leave office. For those who never make it all the way through their terms, like Kennedy and Lincoln, Americans mourn and appreciate their years in office more deeply once they are gone, as they take the time to reflect on presidential breakthroughs. On November 22, the American people will again relive the highs of JFK's presidency and the horrors of when his time on earth was suddenly ended. 

Contact Reporter Sarah Collins here. Follow her on Twitter here.



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