• U.S.

Clinton Whispered, But Voters Roared

3 minute read

HE LOST HIS VOICE BUT WON JUST ABOUT EVERYthing else. On Sunday morning, speaking in Cincinnati, Bill Clinton could manage only 21 seconds of half whisper, half gasp; even on Tuesday night, making his victory speech, he still sounded strained and hoarse. It hardly mattered. By then the voters had spoken, and the election that briefly looked close had become anything but.

Clinton’s plurality in the popular vote, 43% — vs. 38% for George Bush and 19% for Ross Perot — was solid rather than spectacular. But his victory nonetheless was sweeping. Geographically, the Arkansas Governor showed enough strength in every part of the country to enjoy a more than comfortable margin in the Electoral College; he won 31 states and 357 electoral votes, vs. only 18 states and 168 electoral votes for Bush. More striking still, Clinton rolled up pluralities or majorities in most major demographic groups: men and women; blacks and Hispanics; every age group, from 18 to 29 to over 60; and every income class below $50,000 a year. Bush won the votes of whites, but by a narrow margin, and only because of the male vote; Clinton tied him among white women. The President also won Protestants and Asians but few other groups.

Of those who once considered voting for Perot, 38% pulled the lever for Clinton, vs. only 33% who stuck with Perot to the end. Perot won a bigger share of the vote than any other independent candidate in this century, save Teddy Roosevelt, who got 27.4% in 1912. But the maverick Texan got little boost from his final TV blitz. On election night he said he would continue to be “the grain of sand” that irritates an oyster into producing a pearl.

How did Clinton do it? A combination of a sick economy and an emphasis on the right issues. In exit polls 43% of the voters said they had been moved by the issue of the economy and jobs, more than twice as many as mentioned any other issue; they went for Clinton 52%. Asked what “quality” most influenced them, 37% specified a desire for change, and 25% sought the candidate with the “best plan”; they chose Clinton by 58% and 51% respectively. Bush scored on taxes, foreign policy and the general issue of honesty — but those issues did not sway enough voters to get him elected.

In the last few days, Bush had grown unpresidentially shrill, repeatedly calling Clinton and his running mate Al Gore “bozos.” But on election night he bowed out graciously. “We respect the majesty of the democratic system,” he told supporters, and he congratulated Clinton on a “strong campaign.” In % Little Rock, Arkansans literally danced in the streets at their Governor’s victory. Appearing on an outdoor stage, an exuberant Clinton repeated some of his campaign themes, asserting that the people had said “we want our future back, and I intend to help give it to you.” But he participated in the ritual of healing, insisting that “we are all in this together, and we will rise or fall together.”

If there was a downside for Clinton, it was his lack of coattail pull. While women did well, Democrats fell short of winning a “filibuster-proof” majority of 60 in the Senate; in the House of Representatives they may lose 9 seats. Nonetheless, Clinton’s victory ended an era of divided government, as well as 12 years of Republican control of the White House. As for Bush, he has won an unwelcome niche in history: of the past four Presidents, he is the third who has failed to hold on to the White House. (See related stories in main section.)

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