Sabato's Crystal Ball

1996 Presidential Election

UVA Center for Politics January 1st, 2008

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Although the polls were strongly in Clinton’s favor leading up to the election, they were also displaying an uneasiness with the president’s character, due to the continuing bad publicity of the Whitewater accusations and the sexual harassment charges against Clinton. However, though these same polls were revealing low confidence in the president’s character, a reelection was predicted because of an almost equal low confidence about the Republican nominee and the Republican majority in Congress.

In 1996, the economy was booming, and the Clinton administration was riding high. His strategy was steadfast, capitalizing on a number of issues that were typical Republican strongholds, such as welfare reform, and deficit reduction. He held his Democratic ties by “positioning himself as the only viable check against the extremism of the Republican Congress.” In contrast, the Dole campaign lacked the excitement and spark that Clinton’s campaign possessed. Though spoken of as a pleasant and friendly person, Dole was often perceived as a threatening and humorless politician. This drastically contrasted with Clinton, who was typically viewed as nothing less than a charming and assuring politico. Despite a steady campaign, Dole could never overcome the uneasiness voters felt about him. In attempt to reverse his negative image, for months Dole refused to attack Clinton’s biggest weakness, his character. Finally when victory looked dim during the final weeks of the campaign, Dole did decide to attack the president’s character, and such a move made a sizeable impression in the polls. Ross Perot of the Reform Party also gained momentum with the negative Clinton press, though his numbers were not as substantial as in 1992, and because of this, he was excluded from the presidential debates. Clinton easily won the election, becoming the first Democrat to be reelected since Franklin Roosevelt in 1936. Little changed, in terms of elections, even though both parties spent about $500 million on their campaigns.