So identical were the electoral college maps of the 1992 and 1996 presidential elections that analysts were quick to decree that 1996 was a “status quo election.” 1 After all, only five states had shifted their party allegiance between the two elections. President Bill Clinton had picked up two states—Florida and Arizona—from his previous showing and lost three others. Both Florida and Arizona were heavily populated with retirees. It was widely asserted in press accounts that Clinton had benefited from the Democratic party’s efforts to raise anxiety among senior citizens about the Medicare and social security cuts contemplated by the Republican Congress. 2 Republicans called it a tactic of “Mediscare” and it seemed to have worked in these two states. Three other states that had cast electoral votes for Clinton in 1992—Colorado, Montana, and Georgia—returned to the Republican fold in 1996. But forty-five states and the District of Columbia retained their electoral affiliations from the previous election.
In the elections for Congress as well, continuity seemed to triumph over change. In the Senate, there was a net shift of only two seats as the Republican majority grew from 53 to 55, and only one of twenty Senate incumbents lost, Larry Pressler (Rep-S.D.). In the House, the shift was only nine seats, and the incumbent success rate was 94.4 percent. There is thus little surprise that the 1996 election was dubbed “the status quo election.”
That continuity can triumph in a time of national peace and economic prosperity is no surprise. That the election continued divided government in place is perhaps the real story of 1996. Why for the first time in American history was a Democratic president elected simultaneously with a Republican Congress?
It is the major contention of this chapter that the historic linkage between presidential and congressional elections was broken in the 1970s and 1980s by the conscious actions of two key figures—President Richard