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Decades Later, Most Americans Doubt Lone Gunman Killed JFK

Decades Later, Most Americans Doubt Lone Gunman Killed JFK

Story Highlights

  • 65% of Americans think Kennedy assassination involved a conspiracy
  • Democrats, college-educated adults less likely to say it was a conspiracy
  • U.S. government named most often as co-conspirator (20%), up from 2013

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Sixty years after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, a broad majority of Americans continue to believe that Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone but rather, that others were involved in a conspiracy to kill the president. The 65% of U.S. adults who think Oswald worked in concert with others and the 29% who say he was solely responsible are roughly in line with the previous readings from 10 years ago. Belief in a conspiracy was higher between 1976 and 2003.


Gallup first asked Americans about culpability in Kennedy’s assassination immediately after the Nov. 22, 1963, murder in Dallas, Texas, and found a slim 52% majority believed there was “some group or element” other than the gunman involved, while 29% thought he acted on his own and 19% were unsure.

Oswald was killed by Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby two days after Kennedy was slain. The federal government’s investigation into Kennedy's assassination -- the Warren Commission -- determined in 1964 that Oswald acted alone. Two years later, when Gallup next asked Americans who was responsible for the president’s death, 36% said it was the work of one man, half thought others were involved, and 15% did not know.

From the mid-1970s through the early 2000s, Americans’ belief in a conspiracy was higher, ranging from 74% to 81% in six readings, before it declined in the last two polls, asked on the 50th and 60th anniversaries of the assassination.

Views of Kennedy Assassination Differ Most by Education Level and Party

The latest poll, conducted Oct. 2-23, finds majorities of most key demographic groups believing that more than one person was involved in Kennedy’s assassination. Americans with postgraduate education are the exception, with more who say a lone gunman (50%) rather than multiple people (44%) killed the president. This was not the case when this question was last asked in 2013.

The views of college graduates (those without any postgraduate education) are closer to those of Americans with at least some postgraduate education compared with those without a college degree. Still, 57% of college graduates think there was a conspiracy among multiple parties, while 41% say Oswald acted alone.

Although majorities of all party groups believe Kennedy’s assassination involved a conspiracy, that view is less prevalent among Democrats (55%) than Republicans (71%) and independents (68%). Conversely, Democrats (39%) are more likely than Republicans (25%) and independents (25%) to support the idea of a lone gunman.


While there have not been statistically significant differences in views among age groups in the 2013 and current polls, younger adults were more likely than their older counterparts to believe others were involved in 2003.

Increase in U.S. Government Citations as Entity Involved in Conspiracy

Gallup asked those who believe Kennedy’s assassination was the work of multiple actors to name the specific people or groups they think were responsible, and they cited the federal government (20%) and the CIA (16%) more often than any others.

Another 11% think the Mafia or organized crime was responsible, and 6% suspect that the FBI was a co-conspirator. No other people or groups were named by more than 3% as potential parties to the murder, and 39% did not offer a possible person or group.

The question was previously asked once, in 2013. Since then, there has been an increase in the percentage naming the federal government (from 13% to 20%), the CIA (from 7% to 16%) and the FBI (from 1% to 6%).

In all, 38% of those who think Oswald did not act alone name the federal government or one of its agencies or members -- including nonspecific government mentions, the CIA, the FBI, the Secret Service and Vice President Lyndon Johnson -- as being involved. This marks a 13-percentage-point increase in mentions of the government compared with 2013.


Bottom Line

It has been six decades since Kennedy, who remains the most highly rated former U.S. president, was assassinated while riding in a motorcade through the crowded streets of Dallas. The murder of Oswald before he could stand trial has led to a myriad of conspiracy theories, including claims that some element of the U.S. government was involved.

As has been the case since the 1970s, a majority of Americans remain skeptical about the circumstances of Kennedy’s death. While fewer subscribe to a conspiracy theory than did so in the past, those who do are more likely today than a decade ago to think the federal government was involved in some way. This increased belief in the government’s involvement in Kennedy’s assassination coincides with a decrease in the public’s trust in government.

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