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Saturday, April 03, 2010

The Ross Perot candidacy did NOT put Bill Clinton in the White House in 1992

One of those hoary right-wing maxims is put to rest – definitively. In this case, the eminently forgettable Dan Quayle, Republican Vice-Presidential candidate in 1992, repeats it mindlessly in a Washington Post op-ed. It has been repeated so often and so off-handedly over the years, I had myself come to give it some half-formed credibility even though I never really believed it.

But I had to repeat the math and re-convince myself whenever I heard it, calculating that in order for it to be true, since Clinton beat George H. W. Bush 43% -37%, with 20% going for Perot, 67% of Perot's support would have had to come from voters who would have voted for George H. W. Bush. But Perot was not so clearly in either camp ideologically for that to make sense. While there was a strong anti-government, libertarian strain he appealed to, favoring Republicans, his big economic focus was on loss of manufacturing and manufacturing jobs, something that gave some comfort to labor-oriented voters. I would not have been surprised if it had broken 55-45 in Bush's favor, at the most 60-40, which still would have left Bush two million votes behind Clinton. In reality, polls indicated it was nearly a dead heat: Perot drew independent-leaning disaffected voters almost equally from both sides.

Well, if you're over 50 and this might sometime have marginal relevance in some water-cooler political argument, forget doing the math and simply know this once and for all: it is a flat-out falsehood. It's a crock. The math part is just the coup de gras. George H. W. Bush at no time during the campaign of 1992 led Clinton, and after the Democratic convention was behind Clinton in the polls by more than 20 percentage points. Even after the Republican convention "bounce," he stayed well behind. I forgot that Perot had dropped out of the race, and throughout that time when it was just mano-a-mano between Clinton and Bush, Clinton had a dominating lead in the polls. Clinton still had a solid double-digit lead when Perot jumped back into the race in October. It was only after Perot re-entered and both he and Bush started pounding on Clinton's character issues that the lead started to erode -- to the mere 6 million vote final margin of victory.

So, Dan, Ross Perot did not keep you out of the White House. Even if they were wary of Clinton, the voters saw bigger problems with putting George I back in, and they didn't like you very much. Deal with it, and stop lying.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perot won 0 electoral votes and Clinton won the electoral college by a landslide. Quayle's position could be supported if a state-by-state analysis revealed that Bush "would have" won a lot of borderline states, but this scenario seems almost impossible.

9:28 PM  

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