The United States presidential election of 1996 was the 53rd quadrennial presidential election. It was held on Tuesday, November 5, 1996. Incumbent Democratic President Bill Clinton defeated Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, the Republican nominee.
Clinton and Vice President Al Gore were re-nominated without incident by the Democratic Party. Numerous candidates entered the 1996 Republican primaries, with Dole considered the early front-runner. Dole clinched the nomination after defeating challenges by publisher Steve Forbes and paleoconservative leader Pat Buchanan. Dole's running mate was Jack Kemp, a former Congressman and football player who had served as the Housing Secretary under President George H. W. Bush. Ross Perot, who had won 18.9% of the popular vote as an independent candidate in the 1992 election, ran as the candidate of the Reform Party. Perot received less media attention in 1996 and was excluded from the presidential debates.
Clinton's chances of winning were initially considered slim in the middle of his term as his party had lost both the House of Representatives and the Senate in 1994 for the first time in decades. He was able to regain ground as the economy began to recover from the early 1990s recession with a relatively stable world stage. Clinton tied Dole to Newt Gingrich, the unpopular Republican Speaker of the House. Dole promised an across-the-board 15% reduction in federal income taxes and attacked Clinton as a member of the "spoiled" Baby Boomer generation. Dole's age was a persistent issue in the election, and gaffes by Dole exacerbated the issue for his campaign.
Clinton maintained a consistent polling age over Dole, and he won re-election with a substantial margin in the popular vote and the Electoral College. Clinton became the first Democrat since Franklin D. Roosevelt to win two straight presidential elections. Dole won 40.7% of the popular vote and 159 electoral votes, while Perot won 8.4% of the popular vote. Despite Dole's defeat, the Republican Party was able to maintain a majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Turnout was registered at 49.0%, the lowest for a presidential election since 1924.
|United States presidential election, 1996|
All 538 electoral votes of the Electoral College
270 electoral votes needed to win
|Turnout||49.0% 6.2 pp|
Presidential election results map. Blue denotes those won by Clinton/Gore, red denotes states won by Dole/Kemp. Numbers indicate electoral votes allotted to the winner of each state.
In 1995, the Republican Party was riding high on the significant gains made in the 1994 mid-term elections. In those races, the Republicans, led by whip Newt Gingrich, captured the majority of seats in the House for the first time in forty years and the majority of seats in the Senate for the first time in eight years. Gingrich became Speaker of the House, while Bob Dole elevated to Senate Majority leader.
The Republicans of the 104th Congress pursued an ambitious agenda, highlighted by their Contract with America, but were often forced to compromise with President Clinton, who wielded veto power. A budget impasse between Congress and the Clinton Administration eventually resulted in a government shutdown. Clinton, meanwhile, was praised for signing the GOP's welfare reform and other notable bills, but was forced to abandon his own health care plan.
|Democratic Party Ticket, 1996|
|Bill Clinton||Al Gore|
|for President||for Vice President|
President of the United States
Vice President of the United States
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 who were barred from the convention. Jimmy Griffin, former Mayor of Buffalo, New York, mounted a brief campaign but withdrew after a poor showing in the New Hampshire primary. 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 Ticket, 1996|
|Bob Dole||Jack Kemp|
|for President||for Vice President|
U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
A number of Republican candidates entered the field to challenge the incumbent Democratic President, Bill Clinton.
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 Secretary of Labor Lynn Martin of Illinois, who served in the United States House of Representatives from Illinois's 16th District and was the 1990 Republican U.S. Senate nominee losing to incumbent Paul Simon conducted a bid for most of 1995, but withdrew before the Iowa Caucuses as polls showed her languishing far behind. She participated in a number of primary Presidential debates before withdrawing. Ironically, Martin's predecessor in Congress, John Anderson had made a first Republican than Independent Presidential bid in 1980. Also, Simon who defeated Martin for the U.S. Senate had run for President as a Democrat in 1988. Until former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ran in 2008 and 2016, Martin was the most experienced and qualified female to run for President.
Former U.S. Army General Colin 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. Former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former Secretary of Education William Bennett both flirted with bids, both even set up exploratory committees, for a number of months but both finally declared within days of each other they wouldn't run either.
Ahead of the 1996 primary contest, Republican Leader of the United States Senate and former vice-presidential candidate Bob Dole was seen as the most likely winner, nearly 20 years after losing the Vice Presidency to Democrat Walter Mondale. However, Steve Forbes finished first in Delaware and Arizona while paleoconservative firebrand Pat Buchanan managed early victories in Alaska and Louisiana, in addition to a strong second place in the Iowa caucuses and a surprising victory in the small but key New Hampshire primary. Buchanan's New Hampshire win alarmed the Republican "establishment" sufficiently as to provoke prominent Republicans to quickly coalesce around Dole, and Dole won every primary starting with North and South Dakota. Dole resigned his Senate seat on June 11 and the Republican National Convention formally nominated Dole on August 15, 1996 for President.
Popular primaries vote
Former Representative and Housing Secretary Jack Kemp was nominated by acclamation for Vice President, the following day.
Parties in this section have obtained ballot access in enough states to theoretically obtain the minimum number of electoral votes needed to win the election. Individuals included in this section have completed one or more of the following actions: received, or formally announced their candidacy for, the presidential nomination of a third party; formally announced intention to run as an independent candidate and obtained enough ballot access to win the election; filed as a third party or non-affiliated candidate with the FEC (for other than exploratory purposes). Within each party, candidates are listed alphabetically by surname.
The United States Reform Party had great difficulty in finding a candidate willing to run in the general election. Lowell Weicker, Tim Penny, David Boren and Richard Lamm were among those who toyed with the notion of seeking its presidential nomination, though all but Lamm decided against it; Lamm had himself come close to withdrawing his name from consideration.
Ultimately, the Reform Party nominated its founder Ross Perot from 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 Lamm 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, and attempted to convince Lamm to run as an Independent in the general election; Lamm declined, pointing out a promise he made before running that he would respect the Party's final decision.
The Libertarian Party nominated free-market writer and investment analyst, Harry Browne from Tennessee, and selected Jo Jorgensen from South Carolina as his running-mate. Browne and Jorgensen drew 485,798 votes (0.5% of the popular vote).
|Douglas J. Ohmen||20|
Natural Law candidate:
The Natural Law Party for a second time nominated scientist and researcher John Hagelin for President and Mike Tompkins for Vice President. The party platform included preventive health care, sustainable agriculture and renewable energy technologies. During his campaigns, Hagelin favored abortion rights without public financing, campaign finance law reform, improved gun control, a flat tax, the eradication of PACs, a ban on soft money contributions, and school vouchers.
Hagelin and Tompkins drew 113,671 votes (0.1% of the popular vote).
U.S. Taxpayers' candidates
The U.S. Taxpayers Party had run its first presidential ticket in 1992, it being head by Howard Phillips who had failed to find any prominent conservative willing to take the mantle. In 1996 the situation ultimately proved the same, though Pat Buchanan for a time was widely speculated to be planning on bolting to the Taxpayers' Party should the expected Republican nominee, Senator Bob Dole, name a Pro-Choice running-mate. When Jack Kemp, who is Pro-Life, was tapped for the position Buchanan agreed to endorse the Republican ticket. Again, Phillips found himself at a temporary post that was made permanent, with Herbert Titus being nominated for the Vice Presidency.
Phillips and Titus drew 182,820 votes (0.2% of the popular vote).
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 unprecedented 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, then 73-year-old Dole appeared especially old and frail, as illustrated by an embarrassing fall off a stage during a campaign event in Chico, California. 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 38 years earlier. A few days later Dole would make a joke about the remark by 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 had left St. Louis after the 1954 season to become the Baltimore Orioles.)
Dole chose to focus on Clinton as being "part of the spoiled baby boomer generation" and stating, "My generation won [World War II], and we may need to be called to service one last time." Although his message won appeal with older voters, surveys found that his age was widely held as a liability and his frequent allusions to WWII and the Great Depression in speeches and campaign ads "unappealing" to younger voters. To prove that he was still healthy and active, Dole released all of his medical records to the public and published photographs of himself running on a treadmill. After the falling incident in California, he joked that he "was trying to do that new Democratic dance, the Macarena".
The Clinton campaign avoided mentioning Dole's age directly, instead choosing to confront it in more subtle ways such as the campaign slogan "Building Bridges to the Future" in contrast to the Republican candidate's frequent remarks that he was a "bridge to the past", before the social upheavals of the 1960s. Clinton, without actually calling Dole old, questioned the age of his ideas.
With respect to the issues, Dole promised a 15% across-the-board reduction in income tax rates and made former Congressman and supply side advocate Jack Kemp his running mate. Bill Clinton framed the narrative against Dole early, painting him as a mere clone of unpopular House Speaker Newt Gingrich, warning America that Bob Dole would work in concert with the Republican Congress to slash popular social programs, like Medicare and Social Security, dubbed by Clinton as "Dole-Gingrich". Bob Dole's tax-cut plan found itself under attack from the White House, who said it would "blow a hole in the deficit," which had been cut nearly in half during his opponent's term.
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.
Throughout this campaign, Clinton was always leading in the polls, generally by large margins. In October, Republican National Committee "operatives urg[ed] their party's Congressional candidates to cut loose from Bob Dole and press voters to maintain a Republican majority" and spent $4 million on advertising in targeted districts.
In late September 1995, questions arose regarding the Democratic National Committee's fund-raising practices. In February the following year, 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.
On election day, President Clinton won a decisive victory over Dole, becoming the first Democrat to win two consecutive presidential elections since Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936, 1940, and 1944. In the popular vote, he out-polled Dole by over 8.2 million votes. 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 narrowly win Colorado and Montana (both had voted for Clinton four years earlier), while Clinton became the first Democrat to win the state of Arizona since Harry Truman in 1948. In the South, Clinton took Florida – a state he had failed to win in 1992 – from the Republicans in exchange for the less electoral-vote-rich Georgia. The election helped to cement Democratic Presidential control in California, Vermont, Maine, Illinois, New Jersey and Connecticut; all went on to vote Democratic in every subsequent Presidential election after having voted Republican in the five prior to 1992. 1996 marked the first time that Vermont voted for a Democrat in two successive elections. Pennsylvania and Michigan both voted Democratic, and would remain in the Democratic presidential fold until 2016. Although President Clinton had won a victory in the popular vote that was slightly greater than that achieved of his previous rival President H.W. Bush he had won less Electoral states due to under-performance in rural counties nationwide – a precursor of the trend where future Democratic contenders for the Presidency perform well in populated metropolitan areas but vastly underperform in rural counties.
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, Perot drew supporters from Clinton and Dole equally. In polls directed at Perot voters as to who would be a second choice, Clinton consistently held substantial leads. Perot’s best showing was in states that tended to strongly favor either Clinton (such as Maine) or Dole (particularly Montana, though the margin of victory there was much closer). Perot once again received his lowest amount of support in the South.
Although Clinton is a native of Arkansas, and his running mate hailed from Tennessee, the Democratic ticket again carried just four of the eleven states of the American South. This tied Clinton’s 1992 run for the weakest performance by a winning Democratic presidential candidate in the region before 2000 (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 former Confederate 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 1948. However, in 2008, the Democrats were able to win three former Confederate states, but that was still worse than Clinton’s performances in both 1992 and 1996. Since 1984, no winning Presidential candidate has surpassed Bill Clinton’s 8.5 percentage popular vote margin, or his 220 electoral vote margin since 1988. Also note that no Democratic Presidential candidate has surpassed Clinton’s electoral vote margin since 1964 and except Lyndon B. Johnson in that election no Democratic Presidential candidate has surpassed his 8.5 percentage popular vote margin since 1940.
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 and the third time in U.S. history that a candidate was elected President twice without receiving an absolute majority of the popular vote in either election (Grover Cleveland and Woodrow Wilson are the others, although all three won pluralities [i.e. the most votes]).
Following the 2016 election, 1996 remains the last time the following states voted Democratic: Arizona, Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, Missouri, Kentucky and West Virginia. Clinton also remains the last presidential candidate of either party to win at least one county in every state[a] and the last Democrat to win a majority or plurality in Spokane County, Washington, Pinal and Gila Counties, Arizona, Washington County, Arkansas, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, Oneida County, New York and Anoka County, Minnesota. Clinton was also the last Democrat to win Florida, Nevada and Ohio until 2008. This election also constitutes the last time that a Democrat won the presidency without winning Colorado and Virginia.
|Presidential candidate||Party||Home state||Popular vote||Electoral
|Count||Percentage||Vice-presidential candidate||Home state||Electoral vote|
|William Jefferson Clinton (Incumbent)||Democratic[b]||Arkansas||47,401,185||49.24%||379||Albert Arnold Gore, Jr.||Tennessee||379|
|Robert Joseph Dole||Republican[c]||Kansas||39,197,469||40.71%||159||Jack French Kemp||New York||159|
|Henry Ross Perot||Reform[d]||Texas||8,085,294||8.40%||0||Patrick Choate[e]||Washington, D.C.||0|
|Ralph Nader||Green||Connecticut||685,297||0.71%||0||Winona LaDuke[f]||California||0|
|Harry Browne||Libertarian||Tennessee||485,759||0.50%||0||Jo Jorgensen||South Carolina||0|
|Howard Phillips||Taxpayers||Virginia||184,656||0.19%||0||Herbert Titus||Oregon||0|
|John Hagelin||Natural Law||Iowa||113,670||0.12%||0||Mike Tompkins||Massachusetts||0|
|Needed to win||270||270|
Official Source (Popular Vote): 1996 Official Presidential General Election Results
Source (popular and electoral vote): Federal Elections Commission Electoral and Popular Vote Summary unofficial Secondary Source (Popular Vote): Leip, David. "1996 Presidential Election Results". Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections. Retrieved August 7, 2005.
Voting age population: 196,498,000
Percent of voting age population casting a vote for President: 49.00%
|States/districts won by Clinton/Gore|
|States/districts won by Dole/Kemp|
State where the margin of victory was under 1% (8 electoral votes):
States where the margin of victory was under 5% (109 electoral votes):
States where the margin of victory was between 5% and 10% (143 electoral votes):
|The Presidential vote in social groups (percentages)|
|Social group||Clinton||Dole||Perot|| % of
|Party and ideology|
|Gender and marital status|
|White Religious Right?|
|White Religious Right||26||65||8||17|
|18–29 years old||53||34||10||17|
|30–44 years old||48||41||9||33|
|45–59 years old||48||41||9||26|
|60 and older||48||44||7||24|
|First time voter?|
|First time voter||54||34||11||9|
|Gay, lesbian, or bisexual||66||23||7||5|
|Not a high school graduate||59||28||11||6|
|High school graduate||51||35||13||24|
|Some college education||48||40||10||27|
|Population over 500,000||68||25||6||10|
|Population 50,000 to 500,000||50||39||8||21|
|Rural areas, towns||45||44||10||30|
Some post-election debate focused on the alleged flaws in the pre-election polls, almost all of which overstated Clinton's lead over Dole, some by a substantial margin. For example, a CBS/New York Times poll overstated Clinton's lead by 10 points despite having an error margin of 2.4%. The odds against this sort of error occurring were 15,000:1. A less extreme example was a Pew poll that overstated Clinton's lead by 5 points, the chances of this happening were 10:1 against. Gerald Wasserman, having examined eight pre-election polls, argued that pure chance would produce such a skewed result in favor of Clinton only once in 4,900 elections. However, because Clinton won the election by a comfortable margin, there was no major reaction towards the inaccuracy of the polls. The polls were also less inaccurate than the overwhelming majority of those taken in 1948, which predicted that losing candidate Thomas Dewey would beat President Harry Truman by a comfortable margin, and in 1980, which predicted that Ronald Reagan would win without a landslide victory.
It's the age of his ideas that I question
Jack Kemp, whose home state of New York saw an even stronger anti-Republican swing in 1996