Last modified on April 9, 2019, at 23:45

United States presidential election, 1996

Bob Dole and Bill Clinton
The presidential election of 1996 was a victory for the Democratic candidate, incumbent President Bill Clinton. The Republicans nominated Senator Bob Dole as their candidate. Wealthy businessman H. Ross Perot ran again on the Reform Party ticket. Dole debated President Clinton in two debates, while Perot wasn't allowed to attend as his polling numbers had dropped since 1992.[1]


In 1994, Republicans won control of both houses of Congress after extracting huge gains in both chambers, but that actually hurt their chances of retaking the White House. Clinton's failed 1993 health care reform package, which helped lead to the 1994 Republican congressional majority, was too distant in voter's minds.

Public confidence in the Clinton administration's treatment of China, Iraq, Bosnia, and Israel during 1993-96, evidenced by polls, made the incumbent virtually immune to foreign policy attacks from the Republican Party. Combined with the strong economy overseen by the Republican Congress that Clinton took credit for and the fact that there were no current major foreign policy issues, there was little to run on to oppose him.

Clinton enjoyed a relatively easy victory in November and became the first Democratic President to be elected to two terms in office since Franklin Roosevelt in 1936. The public showed little interest in the scandals the Clinton administration was responsible for, such as Whitewater and Travelgate. He ran on a moderate platform of welfare reform and smaller government, similar to the way he portrayed himself as a moderate in the 1992 election. The disastrous path of his first two years was forgotten.[2]

Bob Dole promised a 15 percent tax cut, but with a healthy economy that was not a high priority for voters. The press made an issue out of Dole's age and accused him of being 'mean'. Dole, a World War II veteran who had permanent battle injuries, was reluctant to play off of his war record. Bill Clinton, of course, had avoided military service. President Clinton was re-elected with a majority of the Electoral College votes but only received a plurality of the popular vote, similar to his 1992 election. The election is notable for having the lowest percentage of voter turnout (49.1%) since 1924.

American Dream

The theme of the Republican convention was 'Restoring the American Dream,' and convention speeches were filled with American Dream imagery. Dole's own speech stressed individualism over collectivism and called for a broad, even multicultural, interpretation of the American Dream. In their acceptance speeches, Democrats have traditionally focused on the importance of community and society while Republicans have increasingly emphasized individual struggle. In 1996, the nomination acceptance speeches of Dole's opponents, Clinton and particularly Perot, borrowed from the Republican vision of individualism and personal responsibility which first gained popularity with the Ronald Reagan presidency of the 1980s. The persistence of American Dream imagery in the speeches of party nominees since the 1960s shows the confidence politicians place in its appeal. The presidential candidates who have best articulated the country's visions and values have been victorious.[3]

Dole proposed a middle class tax cut at the convention, but the news was obscured by mainstream media reports, sympathetic Clinton, that life had been discovered on Mars.[4] The reports of this "scientific discovery" persisted for days. Later it was revealed to be another mainstream media fake news hoax.[5]


Analysis of polling data shows that the economy was the dominant factor in accounting for voter decisions in 1992, and Clinton, not Perot, was the beneficiary of economic discontent. While issues (mainly abortion) and ideology did play some role, Clinton was not perceived by the electorate as a New Democrat. There was little support for the hypothesis of angry voting. Perot took more votes from Bush than from Clinton.[6]

Hispanic voters were energized by four "wedge" issues that emerged—immigration reform, welfare reform, affirmative action, English as an official language - and by the antagonistic positions taken by Republicans toward Hispanics on those issues alienated Hispanics from the GOP. Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole sacrificed the already tenuous appeal of the GOP toward Hispanics by embracing an anti-Hispanic position in an effort to appeal to WASP voters. In the end, the Dole strategy failed due to his inability to gain the support of white women. In the meantime, 72% of Hispanics voted for Democrat Bill Clinton, the highest percentage ever. The article provides a detailed record of the Hispanic vote in nine key states and the effect which the higher-than-ever turnout and preference for the Democrat had on each of them. In four of the states, including California, Hispanics were a key component of the Clinton victory margin. In Florida and Arizona, Hispanics helped steer those states from the Republican to the Democratic column. In Texas and Colorado, Hispanic support for Clinton contributed to the close election, even though Clinton lost. In New Mexico, the Hispanic vote was pivotal to the Clinton victory.[7]


Candidate Party Popular Vote Percent Electoral Vote
William Clinton Democratic 47,400,125 49.2% 379
Robert Dole Republican 39,198,755 40.7% 159
H. Ross Perot Reform 8,085,402 8.4% 0
Ralph Nader Green 685,297 0.7% 0
Harry Browne Libertarian 485,798 0.5% 0
Others - 420,024 0.4% 0


  3. Ray D. Dearin, "The American Dream as Depicted in Robert J. Dole's 1996 Presidential Nomination Acceptance Speech," Presidential Studies Quarterly 1997 27(4): 698-713,
  6. R. Michael Alvarez and Jonathan Nagler, "Economics, Issues and the Perot Candidacy: Voter Choice in the 1992 Presidential Election," American Journal of Political Science 1995 39(3): 714-744, in EBSCO
  7. Maurilio E. Vigil, "Hispanics and the 1996 Presidential Election," Latino Studies Journal 1998 9(1): 43-61
  8. Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections