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Would Ross Perot Have Won the 1992 Presidential Election Under Approval Voting?*

  • Steven J. Brams (a1) and Samuel Merrill (a2)

The answer to the question we pose in the title is by no means obvious. That it might be affirmative is suggested by the facts that Ross Perot:

• ran ahead of the major-party presidential candidates in several presidential preference polls at the height of his popularity in June 1992; and

• on election day in November received a higher proportion of the popular vote (19.0%) than any third-party candidate since Theodore Roosevelt in 1912 (27.4%), who came in second to Woodrow Wilson that year.

More significant than Perot's relatively large percentage, however, is that he appealed to many Republicans because of his conservative economic policies, especially with respect to reducing the budget deficit, and to many Democrats because of his liberal social views on issues like abortion.

It is precisely this kind of wide-ranging appeal that favors candidates under approval voting (AV), whereby voters can vote for as many candidates as they like or consider acceptable in a multicandi-date election. (In a three-candidate race like the 1992 presidential election, this means voting either for one's top or one's top two choices.) Yet despite extensive research on AV (Brams and Fishburn 1983), comparisons of it that have been made with other voting systems (Nurmi 1987; Merrill 1988), and empirical studies of its actual use (reviewed in Brams and Fishburn 1992), it is no easy task to establish how candidates would fare under AV in a specific election.

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Arterton, F. Christopher. 1993. “Campaign '92: Strategies and Tactics of the Candidates.” In The Election of 1992, ed. Pomper, Gerald M.. Chatham, NJ: Chatham House.
Black, Duncan. 1958. The Theory of Committees and Elections. London: Cambridge University Press.
Black, Gordon S., and Black, Benjamin D. 1993. “‘Perot Wins!’ The Election that Could Have Been.” The Public Perspective: A Roper Center Review of Public Opinion and Polling 4, no. 2 (January/ February): 1516.
Brams, Steven J., and Fishburn, Peter C.. 1976. “Approval Voting.” American Political Science Review 72, no. 3 (September):831–47.
Brams, Steven J., and Fishburn, Peter C.. 1983. Approval Voting. Cambridge, MA: Birkhäuser Boston.
Brams, Steven J., and Fishburn, Peter C. 1992. “Approval Voting in Scientific and Engineering Societies.” Group Decision and Negotiation 1, no. 1 (April):4155.
Frankovic, Kathleen A. 1993. “Public Opinion in the 1992 Campaign.” In The Election of 1992, ed. Pomper, Gerald M.. Chatham, NJ: Chatham House.
Hugick, Larry. 1993. “A Response to Gordon and Benjamin Black: Perot's Own Actions Determined his Fate.” The Public Perspective: A Roper Center Review of Public Opinion and Polling 4, no. 2 (January/February): 1718.
Kiewiet, D. Roderick. 1979. “Approval Voting: The Case of the 1968 Presidential Election.” Polity 12, no. 1 (Fall):170–81.
Merrill, Samuel III. 1988. Making Multicandidate Elections More Democratic. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Miller, Warren E., Kinder, Donald R., Rosenstone, Steven J., and the National Election Studies. 1993. American National Election Study, 1992: Pre- and Post-election Survey. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan, Center for Political Studies.
Myerson, Roger B., and Weber, Robert J. 1993. “A Theory of Voting Equilibria.” American Political Science Review 87, no. 1 (March):102–14.
Nurmi, Hannu. 1987. Comparing Voting Systems. Dordrecht, Holland: D. Reidel.
Pomper, Gerald M. 1993. “The Presidential Election.” In The Election of 1992, ed. Pomper, Gerald M.. Chatham, NJ: Chatham House.
“Voter Registration and Turnout in the 1992 General Election.” 1993. Election Administration Reports (June 14):35.
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PS: Political Science & Politics
  • ISSN: 1049-0965
  • EISSN: 1537-5935
  • URL: /core/journals/ps-political-science-and-politics
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