The fragmented field of candidates debated issues such as a flat tax and other tax cut proposals, and a return to supply-side economic policies popularized by Ronald Reagan. More attention was drawn to the race by the budget stalemate in 1995 between the Congress and the President, which caused temporary shutdowns and slowdowns in many areas of federal government service.
Former U.S. Army General Colin L. Powell was widely courted as a potential Republican nominee. However, on November 8, 1995, Powell announced that he would not seek the nomination. Former Secretary of Defense and future Vice President of the United States Dick Cheney was touted by many as a possible candidate for the presidency, but he declared his intentions not to run in early 1995. Former and future Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld formed a presidential campaign exploratory committee, but declined to formally enter the race. Then-Texas Governor George W. Bush was also urged by some party leaders to seek the Republican Party nomination, but opted against doing so. He would however be awarded the presidency four years later in one of the closest and most controversial elections in American history.
Going into the 1996 primary contest, Senate majority leader and former vice-presidential nominee Bob Dole was seen as the most likely winner. However, in the primaries and caucuses, social conservative Pat Buchanan received early victories in Alaska, Louisiana and New Hampshire, and Steve Forbes in Delaware and New Mexico which put Dole's leadership in doubt. However, Dole won every primary starting with North and South Dakota, which gave him a lock on the party nomination. Dole resigned his Senate seat on June 11. The Republican National Convention formally nominated Dole on August 15, 1996 as the GOP candidate for the fall election.
Popular primaries vote
Former Congressman and Cabinet secretary Jack Kemp was nominated by acclamation as Dole's running mate the following day.
Other politicians mentioned as possible GOP V.P. nominees before Kemp was selected included:
W. Phillip Gramm
The United States Reform Party nominated party founder Ross Perot of Texas in its first election as an official political party. Although Perot easily won the nomination, his victory at the party's national convention led to a schism, as supporters of his opponent, former Governor Richard Lamm of Colorado, accused him of rigging the vote to prevent them from casting their ballots. This faction walked out of the national convention and eventually formed their own group, the American Reform Party. Economist Pat Choate was nominated for Vice President.
Throughout the run-up to the general election, Clinton maintained comfortable leads in the polls over Dole and Perot. The televised debates featured only Dole and Clinton, locking out Perot and the other minor candidates from the discussion. Perot, who had been allowed to participate in the 1992 debates, would eventually take his case to court, seeking damages from not being in the debate, as well as citing unfair coverage from the major media outlets.
One of the more notable events learned involved Vice President Al Gore and a fund-raising event held at Hsi Lai Temple in Hacienda Heights, California. The Temple event was organized by DNC fund-raisers John Huang and Maria Hsia. It is illegal under U.S. law for religious organizations to donate money to politicians or political groups due to their tax-exempt status. The U.S. Justice Department alleged Hsia facilitated $100,000 in illegal contributions to the 1996 Clinton-Gore re-election campaign through her efforts at the Temple. Hsia was eventually convicted by a jury in March 2000. The DNC eventually returned the money donated by the Temple's monks and nuns. Twelve nuns and employees of the Temple refused to answer questions by pleading the Fifth Amendment when they were subpoenaed to testify before Congress in 1997.
Reform Party nominee Ross Perot won approximately 8% of the popular vote. His vote total was less than half of his performance in 1992. The 1996 national exit poll showed that just as in 1992, Reform Party nominee Ross Perot's supporters drew from Clinton and Dole equally. In polls directed at Perot voters as to who would be a second choice, Clinton consistently held substantial leads.
Although he hailed from Arkansas, Clinton carried just four of the eleven states of the American South, tying his 1992 run for the weakest performance by a winning Democratic presidential candidate in the region (in terms of states won). Clinton's performance seems to have been part of a broader decline in support for the Democratic Party in the South. In the 2000 and 2004 elections, the Democrats would fail to carry even one of the Southern states, contributing to their defeat both times. This completed the Republican takeover of the American South, a region in which Democrats had held a near monopoly from 1880 to 1960. This was the last election in which a 3rd party candidate carried over 3% of the national popular vote. Since 1996, no winning Presidential candidate has surpassed Bill Clinton's roughly 8 million vote margin or his 8.5 percentage margin. It is also the most recent election in which a candidate was known to have won on the same date as the election. It was also the last time that the Democratic candidate won the southern popular vote-Bill Clinton won 12,768,317 votes in the South, narrowly edging out Dole's 12,732,989 votes.
The election was also notable for the fact that for the first time in U.S. history the winner was elected without winning the male vote.
'''Source (popular and electoral vote): Federal Elections Commission Electoral and Popular Vote Summary
Voting age population: 196,498,000
Percent of voting age population casting a vote for President: 49.00%
(a) In New York, the Clinton vote was a fusion of the Democratic and Liberal slates. There, Clinton obtained 3,649,630 votes on the Democratic ticket and 106,547 votes on the Liberal ticket.
(b) In New York, the Dole vote was a fusion of the Republican, Conservative, and Freedom slates. There, Dole obtained 1,738,707 votes on the Republican ticket, 183,392 votes on the Conservative ticket, and 11,393 votes on the Freedom ticket.
(c) In South Carolina, the Perot vote was a fusion of the Reform and Patriot slates. There, Perot obtained 27,464 votes on the Reform ticket and 36,913 votes on the Patriot ticket.
(d) On the California, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Texas election ballots, James Campbell of California, Perot's former boss at IBM, was listed as a stand-in Vice-Presidential candidate until Perot decided on Pat Choate as his choice for Vice President.
(e) The Green Party vice presidential candidate varied from state to state, giving Nader a total of four running mates. Winona LaDuke seems to have been the vice presidential candidate in many states. Anne Goeke was Nader's running mate in Iowa and Pennsylvania. Madelyn Hoffman was Nader's running mate in New Jersey. And Muriel Tillinghast was the running mate in New York.
States where margin of victory < 10%
|The Presidential vote in social groups (percentages)|
| % of|
|Party and ideology|
|Gender and marital status|
|17||Born Again, religious right||23||61||15||26||65||8|
|17||18–29 years old||43||34||22||53||34||10|
|33||30–44 years old||41||38||21||48||41||9|
|26||45–59 years old||41||40||19||48||41||9|
|24||60 and older||50||38||12||48||44||7|
|6||Not a high school graduate||54||28||18||59||28||11|
|24||High school graduate||43||36||21||51||35||13|
|27||Some college education||41||37||21||48||40||10|
|17||Post graduate education||50||36||14||52||40||5|
|10||Population over 500,000||58||28||13||68||25||6|
|21||Population 50,000 to 500,000||50||33||16||50||39||8|
|30||Rural areas, towns||39||40||20||45||44||10|