United States presidential election, 1992

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Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush
In the 1992 presidential election, President George H. W. Bush stood for reelection. He had received strong support for the way he had handled foreign relations during his term in office, but the economy had slumped. Bush had the confidence of the Republican Party, which nominated him for reelection after he easily brushed aside a campaign by Pat Buchanan. The Democrats, after a more protracted primary season, nominated young Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton, as their candidate. Wealthy oil-businessman named Ross Perot also ran as an independent bringing together a new Reform Party. The candidates appeared in several live televised Presidential Debates, which included not only the two major party candidates but also the sometimes quirky, but very charismatic, Perot who proved to have a "folksy" delivery that gave him a strong following. Clinton won a majority of the Electoral College despite receiving only a plurality of the popular vote after Perot was able to garner almost 20% of the vote.

Contents

Campaign

Bush enjoyed historically high approval ratings after his decisive military victory in Operation Desert Storm in 1991, but that had evaporated by the time of the election. Ironically, the fall of the Berlin Wall and collapse of the Soviet Union under Bush's Presidency hurt him in his reelection campaign in that it resulted in foreign policy not being a prominent issue, with no Soviet threat. The campaign focused almost entirely on domestic concerns and an economy that was believed to still be in a recession.

A prominently placed sign in Clinton’s campaign headquarters read "It’s the economy, stupid!" Bill Clinton ran a different, more youthful campaign, by making frequent appearances on MTV and daytime talk-shows, and took questions from live audiences, which proved to be a comfortable setting for him. He distanced himself from past Democratic Party candidates like George McGovern, Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis, by running as a centrist. He cited the ticket’s support of the death penalty, a balanced budget, middle class tax cuts and a desire to "end welfare as we know it." Clinton had baggage of avoiding the Vietnam War and past drug use, but the press didn't push those themes and disenchantment with Bush won out.

George H. W. Bush trailed in the polls for the entire campaign. Several of his speeches and political ads focused on the Gulf War, fall of the Berlin Wall and experience to illustrate his success as commander in chief, but his message did little to help his standing.

Bush was widely blamed for a downturn in the economy that did not actually happen.[1] Worse, he was held responsible by conservative voters for reneging on his pledge, 'Read my lips - no new taxes'. He agreed to a major tax hike. More moderate and less charismatic than Reagan, Bush had no personal following could do little to find an issue to energize his party or the American people. In the debates he stressed the idea of the American people giving him a Republican Congress to work with, which at the time seemed out of touch as the Democrats enjoyed large leads in both the House and the Senate. His campaign never caught fire. Attempts to paint Clinton as a tax-and-spend liberal governor with no foreign policy experience didn't resonate. Bush never found a way to deal with Perot.

In Ross Perot’s surprisingly strong third-party campaign he ran as a crusading expert--a successful businessman--who was qualified to fix the economy and the huge federal budget deficits. Perot argued that defits were a kind of corruption, and represented a failure that could no longer be tolerated. He damaged the Bush campaign by asserting that the economy was worse then it was and giving disenchanted voters who didn't want to support Clinton a protest vote.

Results

Candidates Party Popular vote Percent Electoral vote
Bill Clinton Democratic 44, 909, 806 43.0% 370
George H.W. Bush Republican 39, 104, 550 37.4% 168
H. Ross Perot Independent 19, 743, 821 18.9% 0
Andre Marrou Libertarian 290, 087 .28% 0
Other Other 375, 659 .36% 0

[2]

Analysis

The 1992 election was unique for a number of reasons: a perception that economic conditions were worse than they actually were, which harmed incumbent President Bush; a strong third-party candidate in Perot who won over alienated conservatives by arguing 12 years of Republican rule had only raised the deficit; and, perhaps most importantly, Bill Clinton's ability to unite not only the Democratic Party, but a number of heterogeneous coalitions, much as Franklin Roosevelt, also a consummate politician, did in the New Deal Coalition after 1932.[3]

Further reading

  • Alexander, Herbert E. Financing the 1992 Election (1995) online edition
  • Ceaser, James, and Andrew Busch. Upside Down and Inside Out: The 1992 Elections and American Politics (1993)
  • Crotty, William, ed. America's Choice: The Election of 1992 (1993)
  • Denton, Robert E. The 1992 Presidential Campaign: A Communication Perspective (1994) online edition
  • Goldman, Peter L. et al. Quest for the Presidency, 1992 (1994) online edition
  • Koch, Jeffrey. "The Perot Candidacy and Attitudes Toward Government and Politics." Political Research Quarterly 1998 51(1): 141-153. 1065-9129, shows that supporting Perot made people more alienated and distrustful of government
  • McCann, James A.; Rapoport, Ronald B.; and Stone, Walter J. "Heeding The Call: An Assessment of Mobilization into H. Ross Perot's 1992 Presidential Campaign." American Journal of Political Science 1999 43(1):1-28.
  • Nelson, Michael, ed. The Elections of 1992 (1993)
  • Pomper, Gerald, ed. The Election of 1992: Reports and Interpretations (1993).
  • Steed, Robert P. et al. The 1992 Presidential Election in the South: Current Patterns of Southern Party and Electoral Politics (1994) online edition


References

  1. After the election, economic numbers came out showing that the recession had actually ended before the election, but the public did not have this information when they voted.
  2. http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,260688,00.html
  3. Seymour Martin Lipset, "The Significance of the 1992 Election." PS: Political Science & Politics 1993 26(1): 7-16. 1049-0965
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