U.S. presidential election, 1992

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Presidential electoral votes by state.
Presidential electoral votes by state.

The U.S. presidential election of 1992 featured a three-way battle between Republican George Bush, the incumbent President; Democrat Bill Clinton, the governor of Arkansas; and independent candidate Ross Perot, a Texas businessman. Bush had alienated much of his conservative base by breaking his 1988 pledge against raising taxes, the economy had slowed, and his best strength, foreign policy, was regarded as much less important after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Clinton successfully capitalized on these weaknesses by running as a centrist "New Democrat" and won the presidency.

Contents

Background

As the 1992 presidential election approached, Americans found themselves in a world transformed in ways almost unimaginable four years earlier. The familiar landmarks of the Cold War — from the Berlin Wall to intercontinental ballistic missiles and bombers on constant high alert — were gone. Eastern Europe was independent, the Soviet Union had dissolved, Germany was united, Arabs and Israelis were engaged in direct negotiations, and the threat of nuclear war was greatly diminished. It was as though one great history volume had closed and another had opened.

Yet at home, Americans were less sanguine — and faced some deep and familiar problems. Once the celebrations and parades following the Gulf War ended, the United States found itself in its deepest recession since the early 1980s. Many of the job losses were occurring among white-collar workers in middle management positions, not solely among blue-collar workers in the manufacturing sector who had been hit hardest in earlier years. Even when the economy began recovering in 1992, its growth was virtually imperceptible until late in the year, and many regions of the country remained mired in recession. Moreover, the federal deficit continued to mount, propelled most strikingly by rising expenditures for health care. Many Americans exhibited profound pessimism about their future, believing that their country was headed in the wrong direction.

Nominations

Republican Party nomination

Despite an early challenge by conservative journalist Pat Buchanan, President George H. W. Bush and Vice President Dan Quayle easily won renomination by the Republican Party. However, the success of the conservative opposition forced Bush to move farther to the right than in 1988, and to incorporate many socially conservative planks in the party platform.

Democratic Party nomination

The early phase of the primary was conducted in 1991 when Bush had high popularity ratings in the wake of the Gulf War. Because of this, many well-known Democrats, such as House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri and Governor Mario Cuomo of New York, considered the race unwinnable and did not run for the nomination, leaving the field to several less-well-known candidates.

Clinton, a Southerner with experience governing a more conservative state, was able to exit the primaries positioned as a centrist "New Democrat". As his vice presidential nominee, he selected Senator Al Gore of Tennessee, who was not only acknowledged as one of the Congress's most passionate advocates of environmental protection legislation, but also a young Southern Democrat who reinforced Clinton's image.

More: 1992 Democratic presidential primary

Other nominations

But the country's deep unease over the direction of the economy also sparked the emergence of a remarkable independent candidate -- wealthy Texas entrepreneur Ross Perot. Perot, who earned a fortune in computers and data processing, tapped into a deep wellspring of frustration over the inability of Washington to deal effectively with economic issues, principally the federal deficit, and his volunteers succeeded in collecting enough signatures to get his name on the ballot in all 50 states. Although Perot squandered even a remote chance of winning the election by dropping out of the presidential contest in July only to reenter in the fall, his presence ensured that economic issues remained at the center of the national debate.

Furthermore, this was the first election where soon-to-be perennial candidate Ralph Nader was seen. Despite the advice of several liberal and environmental groups, Nader did not formally run. Rather, he tried to make an impact in the New Hampshire primaries, urging members of both parties to write-in NONE OF THE ABOVE. As a result, several thousand Democrats and Republicans wrote-in Nader's own name. Ironically, he received more votes from Republicans than Democrats.

General election

Campaign

Every U.S. presidential election campaign is an amalgam of issues, images and personality; and despite the intense focus on the country's economic future, the 1992 contest was no exception. The Bush reelection effort was built around a set of ideas traditionally used by incumbents: experience and trust. It was in some ways a battle of generations. George H. W. Bush, 68, probably the last president to have served in World War II, faced a young challenger in Bill Clinton who, at age 46, had never served in the military and had participated in protests against the Vietnam War. In emphasizing his experience as president and commander-in-chief, Bush also drew attention to what he characterized as Clinton's lack of judgment and character.

For his part, Bill Clinton organized his campaign around another of the oldest and most powerful themes in electoral politics: change. As a youth, Clinton had once met President John F. Kennedy, and in his own campaign 30 years later, much of his rhetoric challenging Americans to accept change consciously echoed that of Kennedy in his 1960 campaign.

As governor of Arkansas for 12 years, Clinton could point to his experience in wrestling with the very issues of economic growth, education and health care that were, according to public opinion polls, among President Bush's chief vulnerabilities. Where Bush offered an economic program based on lower taxes and cuts in government spending, Clinton proposed higher taxes on the wealthy and increased spending on investments in education, transportation and communications that, he believed, would boost the nation's productivity and growth and thereby lower the deficit. Similarly, Clinton's health care proposals to control costs called for much heavier involvement by the federal government than Bush's. During the campaign, Clinton hardened a soft public image when he controversially travelled back to Arkansas to oversee the execution of functionally retarded inmate Ricky Ray Rector.

The slogan "It's the economy, stupid" was used by Clinton's supporters to point out that economic growth was a more important issue than Bush's recent success in the Gulf War. The slogan simultaneously alleged that Bush was out of touch with the big picture. Clinton successfully hammered home the theme of change throughout the campaign, as well as in a round of three televised debates with President Bush and Ross Perot in October. On November 3, Bill Clinton won election as the 42nd President of the United States by a wide margin in the U.S. Electoral College, receiving 43 percent of the popular vote.

Independent candidate Ross Perot received 19,741,065 popular votes for President. The billionaire used his own money to advertise extensively, and is the only 3rd party candidate ever allowed in to the nationally televised presidential debates. Perot was ahead in the polls for a period of almost 2 months which was unheard of by an independent candidate in almost 100 years. Perot lost much of his support when he temporarily withdrew from the election, only to soon after again declare himself a candidate.

Perot's almost 19% of the popular vote made him the most successful third-party presidential candidate in terms of popular vote since Theodore Roosevelt in the 1912 election. Some believed that Perot acted as a spoiler in the election, alleging that the billionaire primarily drew votes away from Bush and allowed Clinton to win many states with less than a majority of votes. However, independent studies prove quite the opposite: Perot actually drew more votes from Clinton's base.

Results

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Presidential CandidatePartyHome StatePopular Vote CountPopular Vote %Electoral VoteRunning MateRunning Mate's Home StateRunning Mate's Electoral Vote
William Jefferson ClintonDemocrat, LiberalArkansas44,908,25442.93%370Albert Arnold Gore, Jr.Tennessee370
George Herbert Walker BushRepublican, Conservative, Right To LifeTexas39,102,34337.38%168James Danforth Quayle IIIIndiana168
Henry Ross Perot(none)Texas19,741,06518.87%0James Bond StockdaleCalifornia0
Andre V. MarrouLibertarian 291,6270.28%0Nancy Lord 0
James "Bo" GritzPopulist 107,0140.10%0Cy Minett 0
Lenora B. FulaniNew Alliance 73,7140.07%0Maria Elizabeth Munoz 0
Other376,3490.36%0Other0
Total104,600,366100%538Total538
Needed to win270Needed to win270

Source: U.S. Office of the Federal Register (electoral votes)

See also

Reference

External link

  • Bulk of article text as of January 9, 2003 copied from U.S. State Department (usinfo.state.gov))
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