Election Of 1992 Essay, Research Paper
In 1992 the incumbent president George Bush was seeking reelection. It was the general consensus that he would be the ‘hands down, no contest winner’. When the smoke had cleared and the votes were tallied, many were shocked at the results. Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton had defeated the incumbent by a landslide! How could this be? How did the commander and chief of what could be considered the greatest victory in modern American history defeat the Iraqi army and one year later lose the election for the presidency? The answers to these questions as well as explanations for the outcome lie within the campaign strategies and tactics used by each candidate. There were various major political events and public opinion data that occurred throughout the general election stage of the campaign. This paper will analyze both the political events and the public opinion data, in hopes of developing a better understanding as to what helped shape the overall outcome.
There were three candidates in the race for the presidency, President Bush (R), Bill Clinton (D), and Ross Perot (I). Each of the three, to a greater or lesser extent, focused their campaign on the economy. President Bush focused more of his campaign on criticizing his opponents primarily Bill Clinton. He would often compare the economy to that of other nations, claiming it wasn’t all that bad and resumed attacking his opponents. Bill Clinton on the other hand focused his campaign strategy on implementing the need for ‘change.’ At that time the national debt and unemployment was rising. Clinton vowed to improve the economy and the quality of life for the American people by bringing about change. Ross Perot was more of a crusader against Washington. His strategy was focused primarily on the ever-increasing national debt. He sought to lower the debt and improve the economy.
There were several mistakes that Bush made during his attempts to capture reelection. During his 1988 election campaign George Bush made a powerful promise that captured the interest of many. The promise was clear and simple, “read my lips, no new taxes.” Many of his supporters held him to this promise. In June of 1990 the president agreed to a tax increase that was aimed at lowering the national debt. Most outraged by this were conservative republicans, as a result they abandoned Bush and granted Perot their support. The mere involvement of third party candidates has helped shape the outcome in previous presidential elections. Since 1860 third party candidates have appeared in seven presidential elections, candidates of the incumbent party have lost six of those (Burnham 1993, 1).
Public opinion polls are very important; they provide a general idea of how the public feels about certain issues. Most candidates campaigning for office know this and try to address the concerns of the people. Throughout the general election stage public opinion polls indicated that many Americans didn’t approve of how Bush was handling the economy. The following indicate the percentage that disapproved: October 1990 55%, March 1991 43% (Gulf War Victory), and in November 1991 66% (Frankovic 1993, 112). Bush knew he couldn’t skate around the issue. When he did address the issue he immediately pointed the finger. Bush claimed that he was faced with a “do nothing” democratic congress (Arterton 1993, 78). Well obviously the American public didn’t buy it because the disapproval rating increased to 73% in October 1992 (Frankovic 1993, 112).
Bush tried everything he could to side step the economic condition. He pressed the issues of Clinton’s marital infidelity and made claims that (Clinton) dodged the draft. He released several negative ads that were directed at Governor Clinton. Bush focused on turning his campaign into one of trust. The first ad showed scenes from the Gulf War then switched to an empty president’s chair. The announcer asked, “Who do you trust to be sitting in this chair?” Another ad pictured a buzzard perched on a treetop looking over a wasteland. The narrator says “And now Bill Clinton wants to do for America what he has done for Arkansas. America can’t take that risk.”(Arterton 1993, 98). These ads were considered misleading and were eventually pulled. Clinton wasted no time in releasing an ad in his defense that at the same time slammed Bush. Clinton used factual information and quoted the press in his ad. His ad bragged on the fact that under Clinton Arkansas lead the country in job growth. Then the ad quoted the Washington Post and the Oregonian both organizations claiming they no longer trusted George Bush (Arterton 1993, 99). Clearly Clinton displayed his wisdom and caused Bush’s idea of trust to backfire on him.
Televised debates have become a very important part of influencing voters in modern politics. Bush didn’t want to debate and prolonged the inevitable until the public claimed he was avoiding them (debates). Clinton was anxious and wanted to debate each candidate. In fact on September 21, 1992 in East Lansing, Clinton turned up the heat with a simple statement that Bush made in 1980 about Carter. “I believe he wants to avoid debate because he wants to avoid talking about his economic record. I mean, how do you debate the merits of an economic policy that put 1.9 million people out of work?This is 1992. The figure is not 1.9 million. There are 3 million more Americans out of work than when he (Bush) took office.” (Arterton 1993, 94). Bush agreed to debate and both Bush and Clinton agreed to include Perot, in hopes of using him to their advantage. The fact is Perot helped Clinton by keeping the economic debate going. Bush could not escape the economic crisis. Public opinion polls indicated that Bush lost all three debates (Frankovic 1993, 120).
Media influence also helped to shape the overall outcome of the 1992 election. When Bush made his claims against a ‘do nothing’ congress, media began speculating. They printed and reported that the chance of breaking the democratic stranglehold on congress was virtually impossible. They also suggested that if Bush was reelected it would be four more years of a stalemate (Arterton 1993, 79). Each candidate used different forms of media to convey their message to the voting public. Ross Perot financed his own infomercials on network television. During these infomercials he would strategically focus on paying off the debt and strengthening the economy. It was like a one on one meeting with Ross, his charts and graphs, and his solution. He also appeared on Larry King live. Bush and Clinton both used the news media. Clinton broke from the traditional news coverage and even appeared on late night talk shows and MTV in order to reach younger voters. Bush again criticized the two for their willingness to appear on ‘weird talk shows’ (Arterton 1993, 91). He later joined the two and conducted several interviews on the White House lawn.
The 1992 election centered on the economy. Bush’s tactics of placing blame on congress and his negative campaigning strategy simply didn’t work. Not to mention the breaking of his no tax promise. Clinton was able to recognize the importance of public opinion data and keep the concerns of the people in perspective. Clinton pointed out that the economy was getting worse and job layoffs were increasing. He conveyed to the American people that this wasn’t fair to them. Clinton also claimed that he would bring about change and increase the quality of life for them. Public opinion data underscores this claim. From July until November 2, 1992 Clinton dominated the polls at being the best candidate to handle the economy by a margin of 6-14% (Frankovic 1993, 125). The mere fact that Perot reentered the race also shaped the outcome. He helped Clinton by keeping the issues of national debt and the economy alive. One of the major things that hurt Perot was that he dropped out of the race shortly after Clinton won the primaries. Many viewed him as possessing strong economic leadership but shaky and unpredictable character.
On November 3, 1992 Bill Clinton traded in his title of Governor for President of the United States. As stated previously a landslide, he won 370 to Bush’s 168 to Perot’s 0. Clearly the American people bought into his idea of change and a better way of life. They were able to look beyond his personal faults of marital infidelity and draft dodging. American voter wanted someone that would directly benefit them and they found it in Clinton.
We see a lot of similarities in today’s campaign for the presidency. Currently Al Gore vows to keep the economy running strong. He is determined to keep George W. Bush from messing up what he has helped create in the last eight years. So again we are seeing the issue of the economy. We have also seen some negative ad campaigning by Gore. He released two ads that were aired prior to the start of the Republican National Convention. The ads accused Bush of restricting health care to children and allowing Texas to become the smog capital. It will be very interesting to see how each candidate performs in the debates. Nonetheless, the 1992 election provides some valuable lessons in campaign strategy, which both Gore and Bush may want to consider.