1992 Clinton VS. Bush VS. Perot


The biographical film “The Man from Hope,” shown at the Democratic convention in 1992, took great advantage of two things: that Bill Clinton, the governor of Arkansas, was indeed born and raised in a town called Hope; and that a filmed record exists of the June 1963 Boys Nation leadership event at the White House, during which the young Bill Clinton met and shook hands with President John Kennedy. “Journey” is an edited version of the convention film, and one of the most compelling biographical ads ever made. In his book The Political Brain, Drew Westen summarizes the narrative arc of the ad: “Through hard work, caring, and determination, I know what it’s like to live the American dream. In my home state, I’ve done everything possible to help others realize that dream. And as your president, I’ll do everything I can to help people all over this country realize their dreams like I’ve done in Arkansas.” The film was made by Harry Thomason and Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, television producers (Designing Women) who were good friends of the Clintons. Focus groups had shown that many voters perceived Clinton as an elitist career politician. The commercial emphasizes work, and carefully avoids mentioning the name of the Ivy League law school that Clinton attended—Yale.


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

BILL CLINTON: I was born in a little town called Hope, Arkansas, three months after my father died. I remember that old two-story house where I lived with my grandparents. They had very limited incomes. It was in 1963 that I went to Washington and met President Kennedy at the Boy's Nation program. And I remember just, uh, thinking what an incredible country this was, that somebody like me, you know, who had no money or anything, would be given the opportunity to meet the president. That's when I decided I could really do public service because I cared so much about people. I worked my way through law school with part time jobs, anything I could find. After I graduated I really didn't care about making a lot of money. I just wanted to go home and see if I could make a difference. We've worked hard in education and health care to create jobs and we've made real progress. Now it's exhilarating to me to think that as president I could help to change all our people's lives for the better and bring hope back to the American dream.


"Journey," Clinton/Gore '92 Committee, 1992

Maker: Clinton-Gore Creative Team: Linda Kaplan Thaler, Linda Bloodworth Thomason

From Museum of the Moving Image, The Living Room Candidate: Presidential Campaign Commercials 1952-2012.
www.livingroomcandidate.org/commercials/1992/journey (accessed July 18, 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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