Ross Perot Did Not Cost George Bush The 1992 Presidential Election
In 1992, Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton defeated incumbent President George Bush. Almost every analysis or reference to the 1992 presidential race claims that Perot's presence on the ballot cost Bush the election. No facts are cited, it is merely asserted.
Perot did a lot of damage, it is true. During the spring primaries in the big industrial states like New York and Pennsylvania, when attention might have been paid to Clinton and former California Governor Jerry Brown as they fought each other and debated a domestic agenda for the new administration, all the media covered was the "undeclared" candidacy of Ross Perot.
[ Digression - What is an undeclared candidacy? Especially when there were already several independent parties qualified to be on the ballot, but which were not considered worthy of coverage: The New Alliance Party, LaRouche for President, the Libertarian Party, the Socialist Party, the Prohibition Party and the Independent Voters Party. Why was Perot, who was not running, receiving more coverage than the candidates who were running? The answer is money. The American press is not a free press, it's a bought press. Perot promised that, if he ran, he would spend $100 million in media advertising. The press supported the undeclared candidacy of Ross Perot to fatten their own pocketbooks. The minor party candidates, who had no money to spend on media, could therefore be ignored.]
But did Perot defeat Bush? First, look at the turnout. Perot got 19,660,450 votes. The total turnout was more than 13 million higher than in 1988. So, even though Perot got a lot of votes, 13 million of those voters didn't vote in 1988. Clinton ran 3.1 million votes ahead of Dukakis, but Bush received 9.7 million fewer votes than four years earlier. The two party vote fell by 7 million. So, Perot only took 7 million votes from the two parties combined. If Perot had not been in the race, would those 7 million Perot voters who voted for Bush and Dukakis in 1988 have voted for Bush by a sufficient margin for him to overcome Clinton's 3.1 million vote lead. Those 7 million Perot voters would have had to favor Bush over Clinton by 5 to 2. Or, even if all 19.6 million Perot voters had voted for one of the major party candidates, they would have had to favor Bush by a 58% to 42% margin to overcome clinton's lead and tie the race. Was this likely in view of the fact that the other 84 million voters were favoring Clinton by 7%, 53.5% to Bush's 46.5%?
The 1992 presidential election was an analyst's dream. Usually, the presidential candidate runs far ahead of the rest of the ticket. Perot's presence in the presidential race combined with an absence of running mates for lesser offices meant that Clinton and Bush ran behind their respective party's nominees for Governor, Senator and the House. Consequently, it was easy to follow Perot's voters as they voted for other offices. They voted for Democratic and Republican Governor, Senator and House of Representative candidates in sufficient numbers to give them higher vote totals than Clinton and Bush.
This assumes that all Clinton's supporters voted for the other Democratic candidates and all Bush's supporters voted for the Republican candidates for Governor, Senator and the House. Since Republican candidates for other offices received more votes than Bush, and Democratic candidates for other offices received more votes than Clinton, this is a statistically valid assumption. The higher vote totals for the non-presidential candidates had to come from Perot's voters.
In the Governor's races, Perot's voters cast 18% of their ballots for the Republican candidates; 56% of their ballots for Democratic candidates, 17% for independent candidates, and 8% did not bother to vote for Governor. If Perot's voters had voted for Bush and Clinton in the same proportion that the voted for the Republican and Democratic candidates for Governor, Clinton's lead would have increased by 7.5 million votes.
In the Senate races, Perot's supporters voted 27% for the Republican candidates, 24% for the Democratic candidates, 23% for the independent candidates, and 24% skipped the Senate races entirely. (This does not include states that did not have Senate races.)
In the House races, Perot's voters cast 22% of their ballots for Republican candidates, 19% for Democratic candidates, 18% for independent candidates, and 40% did not vote in House races.
Perot's voters voted overwhelmingly for Democratic Governor candidates, and only marginally in favor of the Republican candidates for the House and Senate. Perot's voters favored Republican Senate candidates by 2.28%, and Republican House candidates by 2.69%. Because Perot's voters were only 1/5th of the total, that translates into about another 500,000 votes or 0.5% for bush if they had voted in a two way presidential race the same way they voted for the Senate and House. That is about 1/7th of the margin by which Bush lost.
If Perot cost Bush the election, the proof must lie somewhere else. On a statistical basis, it's essentially impossible to make a case for Perot costing Bush the 1992 presidential election. The election results show that Perot took many voters from Clinton among his supporters who demonstrated a low interest in politics by voting only for President and Governor, while taking marginally from Bush among those who demonstrated more commitment by casting ballots for Congress.
This analysis can be further confirmed by comparing the 1992 and 1996 results where Perot's vote dropped by 10 million compared to 1992. By comparing the vote totals for Clinton in both years with Bush's and Dole's (assuming Dole voters and Bush voters were the same voters) it is possible to conclude that in 1992 Perot's presence on the ballot cost Bush: Montana, North Carolina, Colorado and Georgia. However, Perot cost Clinton: Florida and Arizona in 1992. So, in 1992, Perot cost Clinton 32 electoral votes while costing Bush 37 electoral votes. Bush lost by 100 electoral votes, so 5 more would not have given him victory.
This same analysis shows that if Perot had not been on the ballot in 1996, Dole would have carried Nevada instead of Clinton. So, by any measure, even admitting that Perot's presence may have cost Bush a few electoral votes in 1992, it was no where near enough to change the outcome of that election, nor the Clinton - Dole contest in 1996.
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Contact: Joshua Leinsdorf