locking out

United States presidential election, 1996

The United States presidential election of 1996 was a contest between the Democratic national ticket of President Bill Clinton of Arkansas and Vice President Al Gore of Tennessee versus the Republican national ticket of former Senator Robert J. Dole of Kansas for President and former Congressman and ex-Cabinet Secretary Jack F. Kemp of New York for Vice President. Businessman Ross Perot ran as candidate for the Reform Party with economist Pat Choate as his running mate: he received less media attention and was excluded from the presidential debates and, while still obtaining substantial results for a third-party candidate, by U.S. standards, did not renew his success in the 1992 election. Clinton benefited from an economy which recovered from the early 1990s recession, and a relatively stable world stage. President Clinton went on to win reelection by a substantial popular vote margin with a large electoral college victory.


In 1995, the United States Republican Party was riding high on the gains made in the 1994 congressional elections. In those elections, the Republicans, led by Newt Gingrich, captured the majority of seats in both the United States House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate for the first time in forty years.


Democratic Party nomination

With the advantage of incumbency, Bill Clinton's path to renomination by the Democratic Party was uneventful. At the 1996 Democratic National Convention, Clinton and incumbent Vice President Al Gore were renominated with token opposition. Incarcerated fringe candidate Lyndon LaRouche won a few Arkansas delegates that were barred from the convention. Former Pennsylvania governor Bob Casey contemplated a challenge to Clinton, but health problems forced Casey to abandon a bid.

Clinton easily won primaries nationwide, with margins consistently higher than 80%.

Republican Party nomination

A number of Republican candidates entered the field to challenge the incumbent Democratic president, Bill Clinton. The list included:

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.

Potential candidates who did not run

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.

Primaries and convention

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

Convention tally:

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:

Notable endorsements

Bob Dole

Pat Buchanan

Steve Forbes

Lamar Alexander

W. Phillip Gramm

Pete Wilson

Reform Party nomination

2 Reform candidates entered the field to challenge the incumbent Democratic President, Bill Clinton. The list included:

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.

Other nominations

The United States Green Party - Ralph Nader of Connecticut was drafted as a candidate for President of the United States on the Green Party ticket. He was not formally nominated by the Green Party USA, which was, at the time, the largest national Green group; instead he was nominated independently by various state Green parties (in some areas, he appeared on the ballot as an independent). Mr. Nader vowed to spend only $5,000 in his election campaign (to avoid having to file a financial statement with the FEC).

The Socialist Party USA nominated Mary Cal Hollis of Colorado and Eric Chester of Massachusetts.

The Socialist Equality Party (US) nominated Jerome White and Fred Mazelis.

The Queer Nation Party nominated Joan Jett Blakk.

The Libertarian Party nominated free-market writer and investment analyst, Harry Browne of Tennessee, and selected Jo Jorgensen of South Carolina as his running-mate.

The U.S. Taxpayers Party, now known as the Constitution Party, nominated former aide to President Ronald Reagan and Chairman of the American Conservative Union Howard Phillips for President.

General election


Without meaningful primary opposition, Clinton was able to focus on the general election early, while Dole was forced to move to the right and spend his campaign reserves fighting off challengers. Political adviser Dick Morris urged Clinton to raise huge sums of campaign funds via soft money for an unprececented early TV blitz of swing states promoting Clinton's agenda and record. As a result, Clinton could run a campaign through the summer defining his opponent as an aged conservative far from the mainstream before Dole was in a position to respond. Compared to the 50-year old Clinton, Dole appeared especially old and frail, as illustrated by an embarrassing fall off a stage during a campaign event. Dole further enhanced this contrast on September 18 when he made a reference to a no-hitter thrown the day before by Hideo Nomo of the “Brooklyn Dodgers”, a team that had left Brooklyn for Los Angeles four decades earlier. A few days later Dole would make a joke about the remark saying "And I'd like to congratulate the St. Louis Cardinals on winning the N.L. Central. Notice I said the St. Louis Cardinals not the St. Louis Browns." (The Browns left St. Louis after the 1954 season to become the Baltimore Orioles.)

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.

Campaign donations controversy

In late September 1995, questions arose regarding the Democratic National Committee's fund-raising practices. In February the following year, the People's Republic of China's alleged role in the campaign finance controversy first gained public attention after the Washington Post published a story stating that a U.S. Department of Justice investigation had discovered evidence that agents of China sought to direct contributions from foreign sources to the DNC before the 1996 presidential campaign. The paper wrote that intelligence information had showed the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C. was used for coordinating contributions to the DNC in violation of U.S. law forbidding non-American citizens from giving monetary donations to U.S. politicians and political parties. Seventeen people were eventually convicted for fraud or for funneling Asian funds into the U.S. elections.

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.


In the end, President Clinton won a decisive victory over Dole. The Electoral College map did not change much from the previous election, with the Democratic incumbent winning 379 votes to the Republican ticket's 159. In the West, Dole managed to win Colorado and Montana which had voted Democratic in 1992, while Clinton became the first Democrat to win the state of Arizona since Harry Truman in 1948. In the South, Clinton took Florida from the Republicans in exchange for the less electoral vote-rich Georgia. The election helped to cement Democratic Presidential prospects in states including California, Vermont, Maine, Illinois, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Delaware, and Connecticut which would all vote Democratic in subsequent Presidential elections, having voted Republican in the three Presidential elections prior to Bill Clinton's successful 1992 run, and had all voted for Richard Nixon in the 1972 landslide. New Hampshire, for the first time since the 1944 Presidential contest voted for a Democrat after voting for one in the previous Presidential election.

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.

Close states

States where margin of victory < 5%

  1. Kentucky, 0.96%
  2. Nevada, 1.02%
  3. Georgia, 1.17%
  4. Colorado, 1.37%
  5. Virginia, 1.96%
  6. Arizona, 2.22%
  7. Tennessee, 2.41%
  8. Montana, 2.88%
  9. South Dakota, 3.46%
  10. North Carolina, 4.69%
  11. Texas, 4.93%

States where margin of victory < 10%

  1. Mississippi, 5.13%
  2. Indiana, 5.58
  3. Florida, 5.70%
  4. South Carolina, 6.04%
  5. Missouri, 6.30%
  6. Ohio, 6.36%
  7. North Dakota, 6.81%
  8. Alabama, 6.97%
  9. New Mexico, 7.33%
  10. Oklahoma, 7.81%
  11. Oregon, 8.09%
  12. Pennsylvania, 9.20%
  13. New Hampshire, 9.95%

Source: David Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections- County Data

Voter demographics

The Presidential vote in social groups (percentages)
% of
3-party vote
1992 1996
Social group Clinton Bush Perot Clinton Dole Perot
Total vote 43 38 19 49 41 8
Party and ideology
2 Liberal Republicans 17 54 30 44 48 9
13 Moderate Republicans 15 63 21 20 72 7
21 Conservative Republicans 5 82 13 6 88 5
4 Liberal Independents 54 17 30 58 15 18
15 Moderate Independents 43 28 30 50 30 17
7 Conservative Independents 17 53 30 19 60 19
13 Liberal Democrats 85 5 11 89 5 4
20 Moderate Democrats 76 9 15 84 10 5
6 Conservative Democrats 61 23 16 69 23 7
Gender and marital status
33 Married men 38 42 21 40 48 10
33 Married women 60 21 19 63 28 7
15 Unmarried men 48 29 22 49 35 12
20 Unmarried women 53 31 15 62 28 7
83 White 39 40 20 43 46 9
10 Black 83 10 7 84 12 4
5 Hispanic 61 25 14 72 21 6
1 Asian 31 55 15 43 48 8
46 White Protestant 33 47 21 36 53 10
29 Catholic 44 35 20 53 37 9
3 Jewish 80 11 9 78 16 3
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
26 College graduate 39 41 20 44 46 8
17 Post graduate education 50 36 14 52 40 5
Family income
11 Under $15,000 58 23 19 59 28 11
23 $15,000–$29,999 45 35 20 53 36 9
27 $30,000–$49,999 41 38 21 48 40 10
39 Over $50,000 39 44 17 44 48 7
18 Over $75,000 36 48 16 41 51 7
9 Over $100,000 38 54 6
23 East 47 35 18 55 34 9
26 Midwest 42 37 21 48 41 10
30 South 41 43 16 46 46 7
20 West 43 34 23 48 40 8
Community size
10 Population over 500,000 58 28 13 68 25 6
21 Population 50,000 to 500,000 50 33 16 50 39 8
39 Suburbs 41 39 21 47 42 8
30 Rural areas, towns 39 40 20 45 44 10
Source: Voter News Service exit poll, reported in The New York Times, November 10, 1996, 28.

See also



  • (1997). The 1996 Presidential Election in the South: Southern Party Systems in the 1990s.
  • Ceaser, James W.; Andrew E. Busch (1997). Losing to Win: The 1996 Elections and American Politics.
  • Clinton, Bill (2005). My Life. Vintage. ISBN 1-4000-3003-X.
  • Green, John C. (1999). Financing the 1996 Election.
  • Pomper, Gerald M.; et al (1997). The Election of 1996: Reports and Interpretations.


  • Jelen, Ted G.; Marthe Chandler (2000). "Culture Wars in the Trenches: Social Issues as Short-Term Forces in Presidential Elections, 1968–1996". The American Review of Politics 21 69–87.

Web references

External links

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