Social Cleavages and Political Change: Voter Alignments and U.S. Party Coalitions

By Jeff Manza; Clem Brooks | Go to book overview

8
Social Cleavages in the 1996 Election

In 1996, Democratic incumbent Bill Clinton won a second term in office, becoming the first two-term Democratic president since Franklin Roosevelt and also the first two-term president since Woodrow Wilson never to win a majority of the popular vote. Clinton's first term in office was marked by a remarkable series of policy and political twists and turns. Elected in 1992 with an increased Democratic majority in both houses of Congress, Clinton initially pursued a reform-oriented agenda. In the spring of 1993 he proposed a variety of expansionary fiscal measures aimed at increasing employment and easing the country out of recession. In the fall of 1993, Clinton dramatically unveiled a sweeping proposal for national health insurance. He also introduced welfare reform measures designed to move recipients into the paid labor force, albeit with the intention of first winning passage of the health reform. The Administration's health reform proposals failed in Congress, and going into the 1994 midterm elections Clinton's personal popularity had declined, and the Administration could point to few policy victories.

In the 1994 midterm elections, Republicans picked up a large number of new seats in both the House and the Senate, enough to give them control of both houses for the first time since the early 1950s. Upon taking office, new Republican House speaker Newt Gingrich led a showdown over governmental finances and future government deficits, producing a protracted and unprecedented shutdown of the federal government in 1995. In the face of the shutdown and other unpopular initiatives of the Republican congressional leadership, and benefiting from strong economic growth, Clinton's popularity began to rise in the second half of his term. Clinton seemed to find an effective public voice as the centrist bulwark against the Republican congressional majority and their increasingly unpopular public policy agenda. At the same time, Clinton adopted or promoted conservative policy positions in a number of substantive policy arenas (e.g. crime, welfare reform, national defense).

In 1996, policy conflicts between Clinton and the Republicans

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