Learn about the three-way presidential race of 1992, which pitted Republican incumbent George H.
W. Bush against Democrat Bill Clinton and independent Ross Perot. The campaign focused heavily on the economy.
George H.W. Bush
In the spring of 1991, in the wake of Operation Desert Storm, roughly 9 out of 10 Americans thought that President George H.W.
Bush was doing a good job. Then, as the 1992 primary season opened, President Bush and Vice-President Dan Quayle defeated their challengers to win the Republican nomination. But that’s not to say everything was good as the presidential election loomed.As one of his opponents famously noted, ‘It’s the economy, stupid.’ The United States faced a persistent recession in the early 1990s, affecting blue and white-collar workers alike. Some Americans began to wonder if the nation’s economic problems couldn’t be blamed on Republicans who had held the White House for 12 years. Maybe it was time for a change.
But President Bush had more than one major strike against him. Four years earlier, during his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, Bush had promised, ‘Read my lips: no new taxes.’ It was a promise he couldn’t keep, and his critics loved to bring it up again and again. The new taxes also alienated many of the most conservative members of his own party, and despite that new income, the federal deficit continued to rise.
Finally, President Bush represented a different era. He was a WWII hero with an impressive Cold War r;sum;. But in 1992, that chapter of history was all but over; the Berlin Wall, the Soviet Union, the iron curtain, had all crumbled away, and many Americans felt like Bush was their parents’ president, not their own.
This was the political backdrop as the Democrats weeded through a crowded field of presidential hopefuls. In the end, Bill Clinton, governor of Arkansas, emerged with the Democratic Party’s nomination. He selected Senator Al Gore as his running mate.In many ways, Clinton was Bush’s polar opposite. He was certainly not a Washington ‘insider’ with all the associated baggage; he was just a popular, personable governor with a track record of addressing the economy, education and health care at the state level. He was not a war hero (he wasn’t even born until after WWII), he’d never served in the military and he had even been pegged as a draft dodger during the Vietnam conflict. He admitted to smoking pot back in the 60s and faced charges of sexual harassment.
But all of these political faux pas seemed to endear him the more to the Baby Boomer generation he represented. And when President Bush tried to tell America that Bill Clinton was inexperienced and irresponsible, he just smiled back and kept on message: ‘It’s the economy, stupid.’
Unfortunately for President Bush, he was getting hammered on the economy from both sides. A third party candidate appeared, appealing to fiscal conservatives who were frustrated with Bush’s broken tax promises, with Congress’s inability to reign in the federal deficit and other economic issues.Texas billionaire Ross Perot told voters that they would hear a ‘giant sucking sound’ as jobs left the American economy if politicians continued on their intended course. After a television appearance, he garnered enough support to appear on the ballot in all 50 states – a remarkable feat for an independent candidate – and the strongest third party challenger since Theodore Roosevelt.
By mid-May, Perot was in the lead in a national poll.His main campaign tactic was to air primetime ‘infomercials’ in which he carefully spelled out his plan for rescuing the economy. Even though Perot was seen as somewhat eccentric, his businessman’s approach appealed to many voters who were tired of politics as usual.
But in July, he abruptly dropped out of the race, claiming that Republicans were planning a smear campaign against his daughter. Perot actually threw his hat back into the ring in October, but it was too late to save his campaign.
Election Day Analysis
Tuesday, November 3, Election Day 1992, belonged to Bill Clinton.
While he garnered only 43% of the popular vote, that was enough for victory given the three-way split. President Bush carried just 37%, while Perot earned 19%. Considering Perot had the backing of no major political party and was out of the race for several months just preceding the election, it was an impressive showing.Popular opinion suggests that Perot stole the election away from President Bush, but exit polls tell a different story. When asked who they would have voted for if Perot had not appeared on the ballot, 38% of them chose Bush, and 38% chose Clinton.
Assuming the poll reflects nation-wide sentiment, Perot had no effect on the outcome of the election.One thing is fairly clear: Perot’s candidacy kept the economy on center stage. Bush promised to cut spending and reduce taxes but never adequately addressed the issue to voters’ satisfaction.
His strategist from the 1988 campaign had died, and in 1992, Bush simply couldn’t convince Americans that he should keep his job. Clinton’s campaign asked voters, ‘Do you want more of the same, or are you ready for change?’ He had a plan to address several national issues, paid for with increased taxes on the highest income earners. With overwhelming support from fellow Baby Boomers, William Jefferson Clinton became America’s 42nd president.
In 1991, President George H.
W. Bush had sky-high approval ratings following Operation Desert Storm. He and Vice-President Dan Quayle easily won renomination for the Republican Party. But he could not hold this popularity throughout the 1992 presidential campaign. The economy was in recession, he had broken promises regarding taxes, and to many, he seemed a little out of touch.The Democratic Party nominated Bill Clinton. He hammered at the economy and emphasized his differences from the incumbent.
The ’92 election also saw a formidable independent candidate, Ross Perot. The wealthy businessman focused on America’s economic problems. In November, Bill Clinton won the election and became America’s 42nd president, with heavy support from fellow Baby Boomers.
Once you’ve completed this lesson, you’ll be able to:
- Identify the factors that contributed to George H.W. Bush both winning the Republican nomination and losing the presidential election in 1992
- Recall who Ross Perot was and his impact on the 1992 presidential election
- Explain how Bill Clinton garnered the support of voters and won the presidency in 1992