One of the advantages of being a centrist is you’re not often bound by political dogma. Sure, a centrist can be loyal to any given political party and subscribe to common points of view with that party, but we’re also able to weigh evidence and opposing opinions to arrive at a political stance. We’re not beholden to the liberal or conservative ideology. Consequently, we’re not often confined by “truthiness,” a term coined by Stephen Colbert in reference to the quality by which a person claims to know something intuitively, instinctively, or “from the gut” without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or actual facts.
Colbert uses the term specifically when he critiques conservative/Republican politicians, but anyone who has ever had a discussion of a political nature with someone on the far left has probably encountered the use of “truthiness” themselves. Whether it be their often factually challenged assertion that Democrats are on their current losing streak because of something the DLC did or didn’t do around 1994, or that there is some shadowy and mysterious college fraternity pulling the strings of world events, the Left are masters of truthiness. They’re just not as organized with it as the Right.
A recent phenomenon coming from “progressives,” ripe with truthiness, was ripped from the conservative’s playbook. The belief that somehow Ross Perot caused George H.W. Bush re-election in 1992, thereby propelling Bill Clinton into the presidency, is a textbook example of the term. The Left’s embrace of this political myth is further indication of their disdain for President Clinton which often rivals in terms of vitriol with the Right’s.
The truth, though (not “truthiness”) lies in the actual statistical analysis of the ’92 election. This is where it gets complicated. If number crunching makes your eyes glaze over, just skip to the end. Ready?
In 1992, Perot got 19,660,450 votes. The total turnout for the Presidential election was more than 13 million higher than in 1988. So even thought Perot’s vote tally was impressive, 13 million of the voters didn’t even vote in 1988.
Bill Clinton garnered 3.1 million votes more than Michael Dukakis did in 1988, but George H.W. Bush received 9.7 million fewer votes than he did in 1988. Finally, the two party vote fell by 7 million in 1992. So Ross Perot only took 7 million votes from Clinton and Bush.
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%?
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. source
So, from a popular vote perspective, Perot clearly did not influence the outcome. He took votes away from both Clinton and Bush. But elections aren’t won on the popular vote (as we were painfully reminded of in 2000.) How did Perot’s performance effect the electoral college results?
SwingStateProject has the answer.
Perot clearly did not cost Bush the 1992 election. The partisan index measures the degree to which a state favors a party relative to the way the rest of the nation favors that party. This being the case, it would follow that if more typically GOP partisans had indeed swung to Perot than had typically Democratic partisans, the 1992 partisan index would reveal and anomalous pro-DNC swing due to a temporarily eroded Republican base.
However, only a handful of states that Clinton won show such trends. Perot definitely seems to have caused Bush to lose Georgia, as the usually double-digit pro-GOP partisan index in that state cratered at +5.0 GOP in 1992. The same goes for Nevada, which relatively favored the GOP by 13.2 in 1988 and 7.5 in 1996, but only by 2.9 in 1992.
I’ll grant that without Perot, Bush probably wins both states.
Looking at the chart, however, only Colorado, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire and Tennessee are other possible states that Perot swung to Clinton. Still, even if Bush had won all of these states as well as Georgia and Nevada, Clinton would have won the Electoral College 315-223. Further, there is no conclusive evidence that Perot actually cost Bush any of these other six states.
Of course, like I already noted, even if I am wrong about all of these states, that means Clinton would still have won 315-223. No other state shows evidence of Perot costing Bush victory. Perot did not cost Bush the 1992 election–not even close. That is one popular myth that can be put to bed.
But let’s not rely on what George W. Bush might have called “fuzzy math” had he been sober in 1992. (I’m sorry, there’s my own contribution to truthiness. Bush claims he’s been sober since 1986.) Let’s go to several newspaper headlines from 1992 concerning exit polling:
Perot Seen Not Affecting Vote Outcome
DIONNE (11/8/92): Ross Perot’s presence on the 1992 presidential ballot did not change the outcome of the election, according to an analysis of the second choices of Perot supporters.
The analysis, based on exit polls conducted by Voter Research & Surveys (VRS) for the major news organizations, indicated that in Perot’s absence, only Ohio would have have shifted from the Clinton column to the Bush column. This would still have left Clinton with a healthy 349-to-189 majority in the electoral college.
And even in Ohio, the hypothetical Bush “margin” without Perot in the race was so small that given the normal margin of error in polls, the state still might have stuck with Clinton absent the Texas billionaire.
Also from the same author:
DIONNE (11/12/92): In House races, Perot voters split down the middle: 51 percent said they backed Republicans, 49 percent backed Democrats. In the presidential contest, 38 percent of Perot supporters said they would have supported Clinton if Perot had not been on the ballot and 37 percent said they would have supported Bush.
An additional 6 percent of Perot voters said they would have sought another third-party candidate, while 14 percent said they would not have voted if Perot had not run.
And finally, the Associated Press:
Perot’s Voters Would Have Split In a Two-Way Race
ASSOCIATED PRESS (11/4/92): Exit polls suggest Ross Perot hurt George Bush and Bill Clinton about equally.
The Voter Research and Surveys poll, a joint project of the four major television networks, found 38 percent of Perot voters would have voted for Clinton and 37 percent would have voted for Bush if Perot had not been on the ballot. Fifteen percent said they would not have voted, and 6 percent listed other candidates.
So there you have three perspectives. Popular vote statistics, electoral vote analysis, and the results of exit polling, all indicating the Perot drew votes away from Bush and Clinton equally and, thus, did NOT throw the election to Clinton.
But I was speaking of “truthiness” from the left, correct? And I’m sure you’re dying to see examples of the left’s “truthiness” as it relates to the topic above. Well, look no further than this thread at Democratic Underground and the responses that the above information drew:
Lie, damn lies, and statistics. Whatever. I know you are an ardent supporter of the DLC, but save it for somebody that will buy this crap.
I’ve traveled that path with you and the lapdog before and it is endless as well as utterly pointless.
Sometimes I wonder why I even bother. But if you’re asking yourself exactly where the spin that Perot cost Bush the ’92 election, The Daily Howler provides a great analysis, some of which I included in this post.
Ryan Sager at the New York Post is wondering aloud if the netroots will take on Hillary.
… as Primary Day approaches, the “netroots” have yet to make the Tasini campaign a cause célèbre, with all the money and press attention that doing so would mean. This, despite the fact that the centrist, Iraq-War-supporting Sen. Hillary Clinton, presumptive frontrunner for the ’08 Democratic presidential nomination, should by all rights be a much juicier target for the “progressive” Left than the washed-up Joe Lieberman ever was or could hope to be.
Tasini, a union leader and organizer turned anti-war protest candidate, has some ideas as to why: Essentially, it all boils down to a lack of backbone on the part of progressives nationwide.
The piece also reveals a few other politically charged nuggets:
1. Tasini believes the Clinton campaign “does take names and does keep lists.” In other words, Tasini believes “progressives” are ‘fraidy cats and don’t want to be on the evil Hillary’s alleged enemies list.
2. David “I don’t need no stinkin’ facts” Sirota admits “progressives” can’t afford to take on Hillary, which might say something about the netroots’ much heralded online fundraising prowess.
3. Tasini, in turn, says Sirota is full of caca (NOW you’re catching on, Jon.) He says “progressives” don’t want to take on Clinton because they may need access to her in the future.
4. MoveOn.org’s political action committee conducted a poll of its members in the Connecticut Senate race that helped launch the Lamont candidacy; it refuses to take a similar poll of its members in New York, much to Tasini’s chagrin. Hmmm. Wonder why?
Its looking more and more like the left’s “DINO” hunting safari was really only about shooting the weakest, sickliest, and slowest target.