First, let's set the stage. In '92, Republicans had held the White House since '80. The White House tends to swap parties with some regularity. Bush's base was fractured. He'd torqued off gun-owners by his '89 ban on importation of so-called assault rifles by Executive Order. The economy was in the tank, and he'd foolishly promised that his Democratic-led Congress wouldn't raise taxes. (They did.)
I think this article lays out a descent case for why Perot's 19% of the popular vote wasn't enough to affect the outcome of the election.
The outcome of the electoral vote was 370-168 with 270 needed to win. According to '92 election data, there were 17 states where the vote total between Clinton and Bush was <5%. Of these states, the authors let Bush keep the 6 states that he won, plus they spot him all but WI and TN. I think we can rule out WI as a Bush win based on the fact it went Democrat in '88 and '96. To win TN, Bush needed to win 73% of Perot's votes, which seems a bit of a stretch to me. (He had to make up the difference between himself and Gore plus win half of the remainder of the Perot votes.)
Of the 16 states that were within 5-10% of each other, the authors spotted Bush 8 of the 16. MI and OR were Democrat in '88 and '96, so let's count them as solidly in Democrat territory. The article assumes Bush would have taken Maine. The other five states are listed below with the % of votes that Bush would've needed to win. Remember, he had to make up the gap and then take 50% plus one vote of the remainder.
- Iowa: 66.1%
- Connecticut: 64.9%
- Deleware: 70%
- New Mexico: 76.5%
- Pennsylvania: 74.8%
With all the article spots him, the electoral vote count would've been 281-257. It would take Bush winning all of the those states in the article, plus Iowa (7 electoral votes) plus Connecticut (8 electoral votes) to win. This is my oh-dark-thirty back-of-the-napkin calculation, so please tell me if I missed something.
In further analysis, George Easterbrook writes :
(1) Economic anxiety was high, causing Bush’s poll numbers to drop to poisonous levels — by the fall of ’92 he was not an incumbent who, on paper, should have won reelection; (2) Not a single public opinion poll from the middle of July (when Perot dropped out the race) through the end of September (when Perot returned) gave Bush a lead over Clinton — not even in the immediate wake of the August ’92 GOP convention. In fact, Clinton’s average lead in this period was double-digits — and the race was not tightening at the time Perot jumped back in; (3) A comprehensive national exit poll found that Perot voters were divided almost evenly on their second choice and that Clinton — in a two-way race — would still have beaten Bush by 5.8 million votes (his actual margin was 5.3 million in initial ’92 tally).
Feel free to debate me on this one. All I ask is that you show me numbers.