United States presidential election, 1992

The United States presidential elections of 1992 featured a battle between incumbent President, Republican George H.W. Bush; 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 campaign pledge against raising taxes, the economy had sunk into recession, and the president's perceived best strength, foreign policy, was regarded as much less important following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the relatively peaceful climate in the Middle East following the defeat of Iraq in the First Gulf War.


Republican nomination

See also: 1992 Republican presidential primaries, 1992 Republican National Convention

Republican candidates

Conservative journalist Pat Buchanan was the primary opponent of President Bush. However, Buchanan's best showing was in the New Hampshire primary on 2/18/1992 - where Bush won by a 53-38% margin President Bush won 73% of all primary votes, with 9,199,463 votes. Buchanan won 2,899,488 votes; unpledged delegates won 287,383 votes, and Duke won 119,115 votes. Just over 100,000 votes were cast for all other candidates, half of which were write-in votes for H. Ross Perot

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 the moderate Bush to move further to the right than in 1988, and to incorporate many socially conservative planks in the party platform. Bush allowed Buchanan to give the keynote address at the Republican National Convention in Houston, and his culture war speech alienated many moderates. David Duke also entered the Republican primary, but performed poorly at the polls.

With intense pressure on the Buchanan delegates to relent, the tally for president went as follows:

Vice President Dan Quayle was renominated by voice vote.

1992 election was the last with Stassen as a candidate.

Democratic Party nomination

See also: 1992 Democratic presidential primary, 1992 Democratic National Convention

In 1991, President Bush had high popularity ratings in the wake of the Gulf War. Many well-known Democrats considered the race unwinnable and did not run for the nomination. Those that did run included several less-well-known candidates. Some of the potential candidates who did not run included:


Clinton, a Southerner with experience governing a more conservative state, positioned himself as a centrist New Democrat. He prepared for a run in 1992 amidst a crowded field seeking to beat the incumbent President George H. W. Bush. In the aftermath of the Persian Gulf War, Bush seemed unbeatable but a small economic recession spurred Democrats on. Tom Harkin won his native Iowa without much surprise. Clinton, meanwhile, was still a relatively unknown national candidate before the primary season when a woman named Gennifer Flowers appeared in the press to reveal allegations of an affair. Clinton sought damage control by appearing on 60 Minutes with his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, for an interview with Steve Kroft. Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts won the primary in neighboring New Hampshire but Clinton's second place finish—strengthened by Clinton's speech labeling himself “The Comeback Kid”—re-energized his campaign. Clinton swept nearly all of the Super Tuesday primaries, making him the solid front runner. Jerry Brown, however, began to run a surprising insurgent campaign, particularly through use of a 1-800 number to receive grassroots funding. Brown scored surprising wins in Colorado, Connecticut and Vermont and seemed poised to overtake Clinton but a well-publicized misstep involving Brown's Vice-presidential advances towards Rev. Jesse Jackson, apparently unaware of Jackson's complicated relationship with Jewish-Americans, set Brown back. To complicate matters for Brown, east-coast favorite Tsongas found his cancer in apparent but very brief remission. Immediately after the New York primary Tsongas again withdrew, and the campaign was effectively over.

The convention met in New York City, and the official tally was:

Clinton chose U.S. Senator Albert A. Gore Jr. (D-Tennessee) to be his running mate on July 9, 1992. Choosing Gore, who is from Clinton's neighboring state of Tennessee, went against the popular strategy of balancing a Southern candidate with a Northern partner. Gore did serve to balance the ticket in other ways, as he was perceived as strong on family values and environmental issues, while Clinton was not. Also, Gore's similarities to Clinton allowed him to push strongly some of his key campaign themes, such as centrism and generational change.

The Democratic Convention in New York City was essentially a solidification of the party around Clinton and Gore, though there was controversy over whether Jerry Brown would be allowed to speak. Brown did indeed speak, though not on prime time and he refused to endorse Clinton.

Before Gore's selection, other politicians were mentioned as a possible running-mate, e.g. Bob Kerrey, Dick Gephardt, Mario Cuomo, Indiana Representative Lee H. Hamilton, Pennsylvania Senator Harris Wofford, Florida Senator Bob Graham, and Massachusetts Senator John Kerry.

Another additional controversy concerned Pennsylvania Governor Bob Casey, who sought a speaking slot at the convention but was not granted one. Casey complained that it was because of his outspoken pro-life views: he had warned the platform committee that Democrats were committing "suicide" because they did not support restrictions on abortion. Clinton supporters have said that Casey was not allowed to speak because he had not endorsed the ticket.

Perot candidacy

The public's unease about the federal budget deficit and fears of professional politicians allowed the independent candidacy of billionaire Texan Ross Perot to explode on the scene in dramatic fashion - at one point Perot was the leader in the polls. Perot crusaded against the national debt, tapping into voters' potential fear of the deficit. His volunteers succeeded in collecting enough signatures to get his name on the ballot in all 50 states. In June, Perot led the national public opinion polls with support from 39% of the voters (versus 31% for Bush and 25% for Clinton). Perot severely damaged his credibility by dropping out of the presidential contest in July and remaining out of the race for several weeks before re-entering. He compounded this damage by eventually claiming, without evidence, that his withdrawal was due to Republican operatives attempting to disrupt his daughter's wedding. His presence, however, ensured that economic issues remained at the center of the national debate.

Other nominations

The 1992 campaign also marked the entry of Ralph Nader into presidential politics as a candidate. 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. Despite supporting mostly liberal legislation during his career as a consumer advocate, Nader received more votes from Republicans than Democrats.

The Libertarian Party nominated Andre Marrou, former Alaska representative and the Party's 1988 vice-presidential candidate, for President. Nancy Lord was his running mate. The Marrou/Lord ticket made the ballot in all fifty states plus Washington, D.C. and received 291,627 votes (0.28% of the popular vote).

Former United States Army Special Forces officer and Vietnam veteran Bo Gritz was the nominee of the Populist Party. He received 106,152 votes nationwide (0.10% of the popular vote).

Psychotherapist and political activist Lenora Fulani, who was the 1988 presidential nominee of the New Alliance Party, received a second consecutive nomination from the Party in 1992. Fulani and running mate Maria Elizabeth Munoz received 73,622 votes (0.07% of the popular vote).

The U.S. Taxpayers Party ran its first presidential ticket in 1992, nominating conservative political activist Howard Phillips. Phillips and running mate Albion Knight, Jr. drew 43,369 votes (0.04% of the popular vote).

The newly formed Natural Law Party nominated scientist and researcher John Hagelin for President and Mike Tompkins for Vice President. The party's first presidential ticket appeared on the ballot in 32 states and drew 39,000 votes (0.04% of the popular vote).

General election


After Bill Clinton secured the Democratic Nomination in the spring of 1992, polls showed Ross Perot leading the race, followed by President Bush, with Clinton in third place after a grueling nomination process. However, as the economy continued to grow sour, the President's approval rating continued to slide, as the Democrats began to rally around their nominee. On July 9, 1992, Clinton chose Tennessee Senator and former 1988 Presidential candidate Albert Arnold Gore, Jr. to be his running mate. As Governor Clinton's acceptance speech approached, Ross Perot dropped out of the race, being convinced that with a "revitalized Democratic Party," staying in the race would cause the race to be decided by the U.S House of Representatives. Clinton gave his acceptance on July 17, 1992, promising to bring a "new covenant" to America, and to work to heal the perceived gap that had developed between the rich and the poor during the Reagan/Bush years. The Clinton campaign received the biggest convention "bounce" in history which brought him from 25 percent in the spring behind Bush and Perot up to 55 percent to Bush's 31 percent.

After the convention, Clinton and Gore began a bus tour around the United States, while the Bush/Quayle campaign in panic mode began to hammer at Clinton's character, in light of accusations of infidelity and dodging the draft. The Bush campaign emphasized its foreign policy successes such as Desert Storm, and the end of the Cold War. Bush also contrasted his military service to Clinton's lack thereof, and criticized his lack of foreign policy expertise. However, as the economy was the main issue, Bush's campaign floundered across the nation, even in Republican bastions, and Clinton maintained leads with over 50 percent of the vote nationwide consistently, while Bush typically saw numbers in the upper 30s. As Bush's economic edge had evaporated, his campaign looked to energize its socially conservative base at the 1992 Republican National Convention in Houston, Texas. At the Convention, Bush's primary campaign opponent Pat Buchanan gave his famous "culture war" speech, hammering at Clinton and Gore's social progressiveness, and voicing skepticism on his "New Democrat" brand. After President Bush accepted his renomination, his campaign saw a small bounce in the polls, but this was short lived, as Clinton maintained his lead. The campaign continued with a lopsided lead for Clinton through September, until Ross Perot decided to re-enter the race Ross Perot's re-entry in the race was welcome by the Bush campaign, as Fred Steeper, a poll taker for Bush, said, "He'll be important if we accomplish our goal, which is to draw even with Clinton." Initially, Perot's return saw the Texas billionaire's numbers stay low, until he was given the opportunity to participate in a trio of unprecedented three-man debates. The race narrowed, as Perot's number's significantly improved as Clinton's number's declined, while Bush's numbers remained more or less the same from earlier in the race as Perot and Bush began to hammer at Clinton on character issues once again.

Character issues

Many character issues were raised during the campaign, including allegations that Clinton had dodged the draft during the Vietnam War, and had used marijuana, which Clinton claimed he had pretended to smoke, but "didn't inhale." Bush also accused Clinton of meeting with communists on a trip to Russia he took as a student. Clinton was often accused of being a philanderer by political opponents.

Allegations were also made that George H. W. Bush had engaged in a long-term extramarital affair with Jennifer Fitzgerald, who had been his secretary throughout the 1970s. Bush denied ever having an affair with Fitzgerald.


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 in the three man race against Bush's 37 percent. It was the first time since 1968 that a candidate won the White House with under 50 percent of the popular vote. The state of Arkansas was the only state in the entire country that gave the majority of its vote to a single candidate; the rest were won by pluralities of the 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 third-party candidate ever allowed into the nationally televised presidential debates with both major party candidates (Independent John Anderson debated Republican Ronald Reagan in 1980, but without Democrat Jimmy Carter who had refused to appear in a three-man debate). Speaking about the North American Free Trade Agreement, Perot described its effect on American jobs as causing a "giant sucking sound." Perot was ahead in the polls for a period of almost two months - a feat not accomplished by an independent candidate in almost 100 years. Perot lost much of his support when he temporarily withdrew from the election, only to declare himself a candidate again soon after.

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. Also, Ross Perot's 19% of the popular vote was the highest ever percent of the popular vote for a candidate who did not win any electoral votes. Exit polling indicated that Perot voters would have split their votes fairly evenly between Clinton and Bush had Perot not been in the race , and an analysis by FairVote - Center for Voting and Democracy suggested that, while Bush could have won more electoral votes with Perot out of the race, he would not have gained enough to reverse Clinton's victory. Clinton also led Bush in all polls after the Democratic Convention after Ross Perot's initial exit in two-way races, and never lost the lead for the rest of the campaign.

Although he did not win any states, Perot managed to finish ahead of one of the two major party candidates in two states: In Maine, Perot received 30.44% of the vote to Bush's 30.39% (Clinton won Maine with 38.77%); in Utah, Perot received 27.34% of the vote to Clinton's 24.65% (Bush won Utah with 43.36%).


Several factors made the results possible. First, the campaign came on the heels of an economic slowdown. Exit polling [shows] that 75% thought the economy was in Fairly Bad or Very Bad shape while 63% thought their personal finances were better or the same as four years ago. The decision by Bush to accept a tax increase adversely affected Bush's re-election bid. Pressured by rising budget deficits, Bush agreed to a budget compromise with Congress. Clinton was able to condemn the tax increase effectively on both its own merits and as a reflection of Bush's honesty. Effective Democratic TV ads were aired showing a clip of Bush's infamous 1988 campaign speech in which he promised "Read my lips ... No new taxes."

Most importantly, Bush's coalition was in disarray, for both the aforementioned reasons and for unrelated reasons. The end of the Cold War allowed old rivalries among conservatives to re-emerge and meant that other voters focused more on domestic policy, to the detriment of Bush, a social and fiscal moderate. The consequence of such a perception depressed conservative turnout. Unlike Bush, Clinton was able to unite his party behind his candidacy. Despite a fractious and ideologically diverse party, Clinton was able to court all wings of the Democratic party successfully, even where they conflicted. To garner the support of moderates and conservative Democrats, he attacked Sister Souljah, a little-known rap musician whose lyrics Clinton condemned. Clinton could also point to his centrist record as Governor of Arkansas. More liberal Democrats were impressed by Clinton's 1960's era political record and support for social causes such as a woman's right to abortion. Supporters remained energized and confident, even in times of scandal or missteps.

The effect of Ross Perot's candidacy has been a contentious point of debate for many years. In the ensuing months after the election, various Republicans asserted that Perot had acted as a spoiler, enough to the detriment of Bush to lose him the election. While many disaffected conservatives did vote for Ross Perot to protest Bush's tax increase, further examination of the Perot vote in the Election Night exit polls not only showed that Perot siphoned votes equally among Clinton, Bush, and those staying home if Perot had not been a candidate, but of the voters who cited Bush's broken "No New Taxes" pledge as "very important," two thirds voted for Bill Clinton. . A mathematical look at the voting numbers reveals that Bush would have had to win 12.2% of Perot's 18.8% of the vote, 65% of Perot's support base, to equal Clinton's popular vote totals, and would have needed to win every state Clinton won by less than five percentage points. Perot appealed to disaffected voters all across the political spectrum who had grown weary of the two-party system. NAFTA played a role in Perot's support, and Perot voters were relatively moderate on hot button social issues.

Clinton, Bush and Perot did not focus on abortion during the campaign. Exit polls, however, showed that attitudes toward abortion "significantly influenced" the vote, as pro-choice Republicans defected from Bush.


Clinton's election ended an era in which the Republican Party had controlled the White House for 12 consecutive years, and for 20 of the previous 24 years. That election also brought the Democrats full control of the political branches of the federal government, including both houses of U.S. Congress as well as the presidency, for the first time since the administration of the last Democratic president, Jimmy Carter. This would not last for very long, however, as the Republicans won control of both the House and Senate in 1994. Reelected in 1996, Clinton would become the first Democratic President since Franklin Delano Roosevelt to serve two full terms in the White House.

Additionally, 1992 saw the first emergence of the geographical division that would come to dominate electoral politics in the 1990s and 2000s. Democratic dominance of the Northeast, West Coast, and upper Middle West solidified with this election, and even the popular Clinton could no longer sweep the South as a Democrat.

Detailed results

Source (Popular Vote):

Source (Electoral Vote):

Close states

  1. Georgia, 0.59%
  2. North Carolina, 0.79%
  3. New Hampshire, 1.22%
  4. Ohio, 1.83%
  5. Florida, 1.89%
  6. Arizona, 1.95%
  7. New Jersey, 2.37%
  8. Montana, 2.51%
  9. Nevada, 2.63%
  10. Kentucky, 3.21%
  11. Texas, 3.48%
  12. South Dakota, 3.52%
  13. Colorado, 4.26%
  14. Wisconsin, 4.35%
  15. Virginia, 4.38%
  16. Louisiana, 4.61%
  17. Tennessee, 4.65%

Voter demographics

% of
3-party vote
1992 1996
Social group Clinton Bush Perot Clinton Dole Perot
Total vote 43 37 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 41 40 19 48 43 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

Further reading

  • Abramowitz, Alan I. "It's Abortion, Stupid: Policy Voting in the 1992 Presidential Election" Journal of Politics 1995 57(1): 176-186. ISSN 0022-3816 in Jstor
  • Alexander, Herbert E.; Anthony Corrado (1995). Financing the 1992 Election.
  • Thomas M. Defrank et al. Quest for the Presidency, 1992 Texas A&M University Press. 1994.
  • De la Garza, Rodolfo O.; Louis Desipio (1996). Ethnic Ironies: Latino Politics in the 1992 Elections.
  • Goldman, Peter L.; et al. (1994). Quest for the Presidency, 1992.
  • Jones, Bryan D. (1995). The New American Politics: Reflections on Political Change and the Clinton Administration.
  • Steed, Robert P. (1994). The 1992 Presidential Election in the South: Current Patterns of Southern Party and Electoral Politics.


  • Outline of U.S. History: Chapter 15: Bridge to the 21st Century. Official web site of the U.S. Department of State. .
    • Bulk of article text as of January 9, 2003 copied from this page, when it was located at and titled “An Outline of American History: Chapter 13: Toward the 21st Century”.
    • An archival version of this page is available at
    • This page is in the public domain as a government publication.

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