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1988 Presidential Election

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1988 Presidential Election

The 1988 U.S. Presidential Election was a showdown between what many called the “the most qualified man of our times” against the “Massachusetts miracle” Governor. The race featured notable television attack ads and division during a period of prosperity at home and reduced tensions internationally. The election resulted in a clear win and continuation of conservative political governance. The Reagan style of conservativism was scrutinized during this election with the last years of the Cold War on the horizon and urban issues growing in importance. In this article, we examine the major presidential candidates, campaign issues, the results, and the significance of the 1988 Presidential Election.

1988 Presidential Election Candidates

The presidential contest of 1988 featured the incumbent Republican Vice-President George H. W. Bush against the Democratic Governor of Massachusetts, Michael Dukakis. In order to strengthen Bush's conservative credentials, Dan Quayle, a Republican Senator from Indiana, was added to the ticket as the Vice President candidate. Dukakis, a New England liberal added the established Democrat, Lloyd Bentsen, who at the time was serving as Senator from Texas, to the ticket in hopes of taking Texas's 29 electoral votes.

1988 Presidential Election, candidates and polls, studysmarter

1980 Presidential Debate. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Incumbent:

In an election, "incumbent" refers to the candidate that holds office in the present administration. It is understood that the incumbent candidate has an edge over the challenger. However, this reverses for an unpopular administration.

The 1980 Republican Candidate

George Herbert Walker Bush was billed by the Republican Party as "the most qualified man of our times." Bush's experience began with his heroic service as a naval aviator in WWII and ended as the sitting Vice President. In between, George Bush was an oil company leader, Congressman, Ambassador to the United Nations, Chairman of the Republican National Committee, and Director of the CIA.

1988 Presidential Election, electoral votes, studysmarter

1988 Republican candidate George H. W. Bush Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The 1980 Democrat Candidate

Michael Dukakis was considered a strong political candidate with solid experience and poise. Dukakis was a lawyer and Army veteran who served in the Massachusetts Legislature before winning the Governorship of the state. Elected to three non-consecutive terms, Dukakis faced budget and tax issues in his first term that cost him the party nomination in 1978. After writing a book and teaching at Harvard, he successfully re-earned the nomination and election win in 1982. Over the next eight years, Massachusetts experience financial prosperity that was the basis for his presidential candidacy in 1988. 1988 presidential election candidates study smarterFamous "Dukakis in the tank" photo.

Source: Wikipedia Commons.

The "Dukakis in the tank" photo is synonymous with bad public relations opportunities. The Democrat's decision to ride in a tank with a helmet outside a defense facility was used to portray him as weak and uncommitted to true military preparedness and spending. Both sides used questionable ads and attacks; the tank event suits as the most memorable example of bad publicity. A television ad by run by the conservative National Security Political Action Committee highlighted Dukakis approved prison furloughs with Willie Horton featured. Horton was known for despicable crimes while on a Massachusetts-sanctioned prison furlough. The ad was successful in depicting Dukakis as weak on crime, an issue that was important to many voters. George Bush disavowed any connection to the ad, but his campaign benefitted nonetheless.

A Third-Party Candidate

Ron Paul was a former military doctor who left private practice to run for Congress in Texas. Elected to multiple terms between 1976 and 2013, the Republican legislator was a voice for political reform and challenged special interest groups. Throughout his Congressional career, he was a vocal critic of budget deficits and excessive government spending. Paul ran for President as a Libertarian candidate in 1988 and won over 400,000 votes. Ron Paul was particularly critical of Republican President Ronald Reagan's economic policies and positioned himself as an alternative to George H. W. Bush.

Did you know?

Ron Paul is the father of Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. Rand Paul, like his father, was a doctor before running for Congress.

1988 Presidential Election Polls

Below is a sample of major national poll results for the 1980 Presidential Election. Michael Dukakis held a clear lead through the Democratic National Convention held in July. After the Republican Convention in August, Bush flipped the polling data.

Poll
Date
Bush
Dukakis
N.Y.T. / CBS News
May 1988
39%
49%
Gallup
June 1988
41%
46%
Gallup
July 1988
38%
55%
W.S.J. / NBC News
August 1988
44%
39%
ABC News / WaPo
September 1988
50%
46%
NBC News / WSJ
October 1988
51%
42%
Actual popular vote
Election Day
November 1988
53%
46%

Statistics compiled from polling agencies noted. StudySmarter Original.

Key Issues in the 1980 Presidential Election

Bush focused on the continuation of Reagan policies and the maintenance of a strong economy and enhanced international standing. After years of lower taxes, reduced inflation, increased employment, and reduced nuclear tension, Bush needed to stand on the Reagan platform but also offer new proposals. The Bush campaign pledged to reduce crime in America's cities and highlighted his opponent's record on crime as an example of failed "Massachusetts liberal" policies. George Bush also proposed a fight against homelessness, illiteracy, and bigotry. A practical economic plan connected with a sensible domestic agenda was planned. Dukakis pledged to follow his track record in Massachusetts on a national scale. Late in his campaign, he embraced his liberal views and expressed more populist ideas.

Historians point to the level of peace and prosperity in America in 1988. George Tindall and David Shi noted Bush benefitted from these conditions as well the changing demographics in America. With a shift to suburban areas and the growth of Southern and Southwestern States, Dukakis failed to win over enough suburban, middle-class voters.

1988 Presidential Election Results

Map of the 1988 Presidential Election

Map of the 1988 U.S. Presidential Election results1988 U.S. Presidential Election Results. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

1988 Presidential Election Electoral College Votes

426 112

Bush - Quayle | Dukakis - Bentsen

Election trivia

This was the last election in which a candidate won over 400 electoral votes!

1988 Presidential Election Statistics

Candidate
Party
Popular Vote
% of Popular Vote
Electoral Vote
% Electoral Vote
George H.W. Bush
Republican
48,886,588
53.37%
426
79.2%
Michael Dukakis
Democrat
41,809,485
45.65%
112
20.6%
Ron Paul
Libertarian
431,750
0.47%
0
0%
Statistics Compiled from uspresidentialelectionatlas.org. StudySmarter Original.

1988 Presidential Election Significance

The continuation of Reagan-era policies would continue under George H. W. Bush. Most notably, the end of the Cold War occurred with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the reunification of Germany in 1990, and the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. On the economic side, Bush's campaign promise of "no new taxes" proved to be false as rising budget deficits caused the candidate to reverse course once in office. This was the last election in which a candidate won over 400 electoral votes and a party won three consecutive terms. Interestingly, this was the first election since 1836 when a sitting Vice-President was elected President. All other Vice-presidents had been elected after leaving the office or assumed the Presidency due to the death of the elected President.

1988 Presidential Election - Key takeaways

  • The Republican candidate was the current Vice President: George H. W. Bush and heralded as “the most qualified man of our times” by the Republican Party.
  • The Democratic candidate was the current Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, the "Massachusetts Miracle" Governor.
  • The major issues of the campaign were urban poverty and U.S. economic growth.
  • Bush reversed the earlier polling lead of Dukakis to achieve victory in November.
  • Dukakis-Bentsen won 112 electoral votes to 426 for Bush-Quayle, making Bush the last President to win over 400 electoral votes in a presidential election.
  • Bush won 53% of the popular vote while vowing to continue Reagan's policies and to a "No new taxes" campaign promise.

Frequently Asked Questions about 1988 Presidential Election

George Herbert Walker Bush won the 1988 election. 

George H. W. Bush ran as the Republican candidate against the Democrat Michael Dukakis.  Ron Paul ran as a  Libertarian. 

The 1988 election was the last election in which a candidate won over 400 electoral votes and a party won three consecutive terms. 

George H. W. Bush ran as the Republican candidate against the Democrat Michael Dukakis. Ron Paul ran as a  Libertarian.  

The major issues of the election were military defense spending and urban crime. 

Final 1988 Presidential Election Quiz

Question

Who was called "“the most qualified man of our times”?

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Answer

Walter Mondale

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Question

In the 1988 Presidential Election, who was Bush's Democratic opponent?

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Answer

Jimmy Carter

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Question

What position did Dukakis hold during the election?

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Answer

Governor of Massachusetts

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Question

The Dukakis campaign labeled its candidate as the architect of what?

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Answer

Massachusetts Miracle

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Question

Which of the following was a central campaign issue in 1988?

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Answer

urban crime

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Question

How many electroal votes did Bush win in 1988?

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Answer

less than 200

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Question

How did Dukakis fare in the 1988 election?

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Answer

He narrowly won the electoral college vote

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Question

Who were the vice-presidential candidates in 1988?

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Answer

Bentsen and Quayle

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Question

Which candidate initially had much higher approval from potential voters?

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Answer

Dukakis

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Question

In 1988, America was experiencing economic prosperity and international peace.

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Answer

True

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Question

Bush was the last President to win over 400 electoral votes in a presidential election.


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Answer

True

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Question

During the campaign, Bush pledged to raise taxes to combat budget deficits.

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Answer

False

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Question

The 1988 election was one of the few times a President was elected by winning the electoral vote but not the popular vote.

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Answer

False

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Question

How can we characterize the significance of the 1988 election?

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Answer

This was a continuation of Reagan policies that resonated with suburban voters.

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