1992 Clinton VS. Bush VS. Perot

"Leaders 2"


Museum of the Moving Image
The Living Room Candidate
"Leaders 2," Clinton, 1992

MALE NARRATOR: They are a new generation of Democrats, Bill Clinton and Al Gore, and they don't think the way the old Democratic Party did. They've called for an end to welfare as we know it, so welfare can be a second chance, not a way of life.

[TEXT: Welfare can be a second chance, not a way of life.]

MALE NARRATOR: They've sent a strong signal to criminals by supporting the death penalty.

[TEXT: Support the death penalty.]

MALE NARRATOR: And they've rejected the old tax and spend politics.

[TEXT: Clinton has balanced 12 budgets.]

MALE NARRATOR: Clinton's balanced 12 budgets and they've proposed a new plan investing in people, detailing $140 billion in spending cuts they'd make right now.

[TEXT: Cut $140 Billion in wasteful spending.]

MALE NARRATOR: Clinton/Gore. For people, for a change.


"Leaders 2," Clinton/Gore '92 Committee, 1992

Maker: Clinton-Gore Creative Team

From Museum of the Moving Image, The Living Room Candidate: Presidential Campaign Commercials 1952-2012.
www.livingroomcandidate.org/commercials/1992/leaders-2 (accessed July 25, 2024).


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1992 Clinton Bush Perot Results

George Bush, the incumbent president, enjoyed approval ratings near 90 percent following America’s decisive military victory in Operation Desert Storm in 1991. Many leading Democrats, including New York Governor Mario Cuomo, declined to run, and the party’s nomination went to Bill Clinton, governor of Arkansas. By early 1992, the U.S. economy was faltering, and Clinton’s campaign decided to focus almost exclusively on this issue. A prominently placed sign in Clinton’s campaign headquarters read "It’s the economy, stupid!" Ironically, because of the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989, which the Republicans took credit for, the Cold War was not an important issue during the campaign, and the Democrats were able to keep the emphasis on domestic concerns. The importance of the economy as an issue was amplified by the surprisingly successful third-party candidacy of billionaire Ross Perot, whose campaign concentrated on deficit reduction.

Bill Clinton for president
Al Gore for vice president

"For People, For a Change"

Bill Clinton’s masterfully orchestrated campaign made effective use of free television as well as paid advertising. Cable television provided numerous opportunities for unpaid appearances, whether on talk shows, in televised town meetings, in unedited coverage of campaign events on C-SPAN, or in news specials on MTV. The daytime talk-show format, in which candidates took questions from a live audience, was so popular at the time that it was even used for one of the presidential debates. Clinton proved to be extremely comfortable with this intimate format.

Clinton’s ads were consistent in style and message. Attempting to show that his detailed economic plan was solid, many of them used statements of facts and figures, cleanly presented with black letters on a white background, with key words underlined in red. Clinton’s commercials were also successful in presenting the candidate as a centrist, with positions that couldn’t easily be labeled liberal. One ad stated that Clinton and Gore "don’t think the way the old Democratic party did," and cited the ticket’s support of the death penalty and their desire to "end welfare as we know it," balance the budget, and cut spending—all traditionally Republican positions.

George Bush for president
Dan Quayle for vice president


Because he trailed in the polls for the entire campaign, President Bush’s commercials were unusually defensive in tone for those of a sitting president. Although several ads used news footage from the Gulf War and the fall of the Berlin Wall to illustrate his success as commander in chief, most of Bush’s commercials were attack ads portraying Clinton as a tax-and-spend governor with little foreign-policy experience. Exploiting controversy during the primaries about Clinton's evasion of the draft and alleged extramarital affairs, several ads suggested that he was morally untrustworthy and hypocritical.

Unlike Michael Dukakis's 1988 campaign, which disastrously delayed responding to Bush’s attacks until late in the race, the Clinton campaign made a point of responding immediately—usually on the same day—to any accusation. At the same time, the Bush campaign had trouble finding a strong positive message. Foreign-policy ads could only refer vaguely to "today’s unknown threat," rather than any specific enemy.

Ross Perot for president
James Stockdale for vice president

The premise of Ross Perot’s third-party campaign was that the U.S. economy was in jeopardy due to its growing debt and the failure of "trickle-down" economics, and that Perot, as a successful businessman, was qualified to fix the problem. Although Perot's campaign was largely self-funded, he had enough public support to be included in the presidential debates, and he ultimately received nearly 20 percent of the popular vote.

Perot's extensive advertising campaign was largely responsible for the relative success of his candidacy, but it also damaged the Bush campaign by constantly asserting that the economy was headed in the wrong direction.

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