1992 Clinton VS. Bush VS. Perot
The Living Room Candidate
"Scary," Clinton, 1992
[TEXT: George Bush Attack Ad]
MALE NARRATOR: George Bush is running attack ads. He says all these people would have their taxes raised by Bill Clinton. Scary, huh?
[TEXT: "Misleading" The Washington Post 10/2/92]
MALE NARRATOR: "Misleading," says The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal says Clinton has proposed to cut taxes for the sort of people featured in Bush's ad.
[TEXT: "Clinton has proposed to cut taxes for the sort of people featured in [Bush's] ad." Wall Street Journal 10/2/92]
MALE NARRATOR: So why is Bush doing it?
[TEXT: The Bush Record: The worst economic record of any President in fifty years.]
MALE NARRATOR: Because George Bush has had the worst economic record of any president in 50 years. George Bush is trying to scare you about Bill Clinton but...
MALE NARRATOR [and TEXT]: Nothing could be more frightening than four more years.
"Scary," 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/scary (accessed June 10, 2023).
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.
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
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.
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.