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Esther Weon

Author's Bio

Albert J. Menendez, a statistician formerly employed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is the associate director of Americans for Religious Liberty and the author of many books, including Visions of Reality: What Fundamentalist Schools Teach and The December Wars: Religious Symbols and Ceremonies in the Public Square.

Three's a Crowd

     Albert J. Menendez's The Perot Voters & the Future of American Politics explores the manifold ways in which Ross Perot, the eccentric third-party candidate in the 1992 presidential race, affected the outcome of the election. Menendez looks at the statistics, analyzing the reasons why so many members of the 1992 constituency chose a "man who came out of nowhere" over either the Republican or Democratic candidates.1 Though few will remember Ross Perot as anything more than a political oddball--a Texas billionaire with large ears, a drawling accent, unblinking eyes, and humorous witticisms--Menendez shows that this classic outsider, who barged into the election with a crusading zeal that the public found irresistible, provided a much wanted alternative to a nation plagued by a political extremes. He theorizes about what Perot's successes indicate about the political atmosphere at the time and how they will affect the future of American politics. Though he never did become president, Ross Perot remains in American history as a testament to America's time-tested tradition of democracy.
     In his introduction, Menendez states that his main purpose in writing this book is to identify the groups of people who voted for Perot in the 1992 election, and the effects of these underlying motives on the upcoming election in 1996. He credits Perot with overthrowing George H. W. Bush as well as establishing a Congress dominated by Republicans for the first time in forty years. Part one of the book, titled "Who Voted for Perot," lists the many possible reasons why Perot voters might have voted for a "successful Texas businessman who [had] never held public office [nor] been prominent in national politics."2 Menendez seems to believe that the middle class, who had suffered under George H. W. Bush's presidency, staged a revolt against the system by voting for a third party candidate. As he points out, "Perot did best in areas of economic distress."3 Ross Perot's platform, which was neither extremely liberal nor conservative, appeased the voters' desire for a cultural moderate, someone different from any leader they had ever had. America in the early '90s was starved for a leader that furthered the people's interests and had their well-being, not his own personal agenda, as top priority. Menendez also points out that "in counties where voters had in the past supported independent or third-party presidential candidates," Perot showed unusual strength.4 In this way, his appeal to the people transcended regionalism and policies. In areas where George Wallace, John Anderson, and Theodore Roosevelt had received dense patches of support, Perot also scored major successes. Though these three candidates have little in common as far as political ideologies go--Wallace ran as a conservative populist in 1968, Anderson was supported mainly by liberal populists, and Theodore Roosevelt had most of the Republican Party behind him--their respective groups of support were all willing to break the established pattern of the two-party system. Just like Perot, these three men "promised to 'send a message' on behalf of the 'average American' who felt oppressed and ignored." 5 In short, Perot garnered in all the more voters because of their resentment of establishment politicians. Perot also did unusually well in the high population growth areas, among migrants and foreigners, "among voters who do not have strong political roots¡­ as they move to different counties or region."6 He did well among farmers and manufacturers--groups known to have supported recent Republican presidential candidates. America's largest ethnic group, the German-Americans, mostly have modest socioeconomic status and a progressive populist heritage, just like the third party candidates aforementioned. Interestingly enough, they too represented a strong base of support. Menendez brings up the Daniel Elazar Thesis to delve further into the psychology of the Perot voters; this thesis divides the United States into moralistic, individualistic, and traditionalistic regions. According to the thesis, the moralistic culture "emphasizes the commonwealth conception as the basis for democratic government¡­ centered on some notion of the public good and properly devoted to the advancement of the public interest."7 Perot did best in this region, geographically based in upper New England, the upper Midwest, and the Pacific Coast region. Perot appealed the most to those disenchanted with an increasingly unresponsive government, no doubt because he promised to be different if installed as president. On the other hand, Bush did best in the traditionalistic culture, based in the South and nearby states, while Clinton received the most support from the individualistic culture, based in the Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, and lower New England areas.
     While the first part of the book focused on those who voted for Ross Perot in the election and their reasons for doing so, part two, titled "Perot's Impact on the 1992 Election," focuses more on how the other two parties in the election suffered because of this underdog's participation. According to Menendez, Perot's candidacy harmed the Republicans more than it did the Democrats because many Republican voters defected to Perot in this election. As he puts it, Perot "made a dent in the Reagan-Bush coalition."8 And while Perot's primary support came from Republicans and conservatives on economic issues, he still attracted many moderate Protestants, secular voters, and certain Democrats. Even "staunch Democratic counties¡­ gave Perot a much higher vote than expected."9 Lastly, Menendez points out that Perot's candidacy encouraged more of America's eligible voters to articulate their opinions at the polls. As Menendez observes, "in counties where Perot received his highest percentage of the vote, the increase in voter turnout was higher than that in the state as a whole."10 The data almost explicitly suggests that Perot's campaigning motivated people to cast their ballots when they might have otherwise ignored the election altogether. This speaks volumes about how disenchanted the people were with the status quo--identifying Perot as an anti-establishment, anti-elitist politician, they immediately flocked to support him.
     The third quarter of the book, titled "State-by-State Summary of Perot's Support," goes through every state in the country, sees what percentage of the popular vote went to each candidate, identifies the candidate supported by the electoral college, and reiterates why certain regions and groups voted for the candidate that they did. This section served mainly as factual proof of everything stated in the previous parts--"his strongholds were isolated rural areas which had been Republican since World War II¡­"11 Readers see the trends listed by Menendez in the previous two parts of the book manifest themselves in cold, hard numbers. The statistics indeed show that Perot did well in the West, among the culturally moderate, secular voters, the new economy independents whose middle class status seemed precarious in the post-industrial economy, and the highly educated and isolationist Libertarians. This section, though definitely the driest out of all four parts of the book, emphasizes the fact that this is a serious account of the 1992 election, backed by statistics and facts. Though not as engaging as the previous parts, it serves as the firm foundation on which all of Menendez's theorizing and observations stand.
     The last quarter of the book, titled "Perot Voters and the Future of American Politics," looks to the legacy that the 1992 election will leave for future generations. It discusses the cultural issues--namely religion and morality--that shaped the results of the election. As Menendez points out, "anger at the Republican party's capitulation to the Religious Right fueled ¡­ defections to Clinton."12 Though writing this book to acknowledge Perot's accomplishments as a political newcomer, Menendez makes concessions to Clinton, acknowledging the amazing breakthroughs that he accomplished: "he was the first Democrat since the Second World War to carry twenty-two solidly Republican counties in eleven states."13 He analyzes how Perot's candidacy helped, albeit indirectly, Clinton with his own political successes. When analyzing George H. W. Bush, however, Menendez flatly states that while his strengths were few, his weaknesses were many. Much evidence exists stating that "Bush's former friends and supporters were the most displeased with his presidential record.14 Countless states experienced declines of percentage points in Bush support, even those that were staunchly Republican. Whereas most presidents running for reelection usually prevail because of credit they have built up during their first term, George H. W. Bush had no such credibility with the public. People were disenchanted by how their standards of living had declined, how their dreams now seemed that much farther out of reach. Menendez also addresses how Perot's isolationist policies drove away supporters of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) during the aftermath of the 1992 presidential race. Since Perot was unable to convince a majority to oppose the treaty, he fell out of favor with many voters. Though Menendez, having written this book directly after the 1992 presidential race, is unable to comment on how this affected Perot's campaign in the next election, history since then shows that Perot presented little competition for the other candidates during the 1996 election partly due to this narrowing of his support base.
     Through this book, Menendez presents his belief that Perot's supporters are representative of an American public that is increasingly disillusioned by leadership that is distant and inaccessible. Based on the information gleaned from "the U.S. Census data [and] The Statistical Abstract of the United States," Menendez uses the "per capita income, median family income, educational attainment, and racial characteristics" of a group of people to determine what they want in a presidential candidate and what they will be likely to support in the following 1996 election.15 He believes that the appeal of a third party, an outsider, proved to be irresistible to a great deal of people in 1992 and that this appeal will only increase by the next election. He ends his book with a confident prediction, that "if American politics [is] ready to be transformed¡­ Perot's voters will be central to the process."16 The fact that this book was written after the 1992 election, but before the 1996 election, played a large part in the writing of this book. If he had known that Perot would not be a major force after his first campaign, Menendez would probably not have written this book with the enthusiasm that he did. In The Perot Voters & the Future of American Politics, he espouses the belief that these revolutionary Perot voters will change the very underlying structure of politics, both in the 1996 election and afterwards.
     Anne Motley Hallum from Stetson College disagrees with Menendez's method of writing this book. At first, she acknowledges that a handful of predictions made by Menendez in this book came true in the 1996 election. She, however, also points out that many more of them did not. In addition, she criticizes the way in which Menendez uses a plethora of graphs and tables and comprehensive maps, but fails to "attempt a single cross-tabulation, regression analysis, or significance test of a hypothesis about the relationship of variables."17 This critique does indeed hold a great deal of truth. While listing pages of numbers and figures that only "political junkies" would appreciate, Menendez never goes any deeper than the obvious, never goes into what Hallum calls "in-depth statistical analysis."18 He merely takes the facts and derives a simple and straightforward conclusion from them, failing to see what other variables may lie under the surface. In addition, Hallum ridicules Menendez's prediction that Perot voters will have a significant impact on the next election. Though Menendez successfully identified many of the factors that caused Perot's candidacy to be such a relative success, his ability as a statistician does not create a book enjoyable to read. In this way, his novel presents his information in a way that is one-sided, that focuses on merely one of the many aspects of the issue.
     In my opinion, the book does present an interesting argument for the belief that Perot supporters will revolutionize the future of American politics. Menendez opens his book with an engaging and interesting introduction. He points out trends that clearly build his thesis, and the many numbers and percentages interspersed within the text seem merely an annoyance that may disappear as the book progresses. As the book progresses, however, the figures do not disappear, but occur with ever increasing frequency: "he captured 32.2 percent of the vote, second to Bush's 36.3 percent¡­ Bill Clinton won 31.5 percent¡­ Bush's support declined twenty-three percentage points from 1988."19 What promised to be an engaging read at first now reveals itself to be nothing more than a tabulation of all of Perot's supporters, in each state, in each county. Due to this repetitive and dry listing of figures and tables, I found myself skimming over much of the book in hopes of finding some text. As another book review states, this is a "book for hardcore political fanatics," mostly because it relies so much on hard data for much of its content.20 This reviewer--quite generously, in my opinion--calls Menendez's work a volume "good for browsing", due to the fact that it does little more than "[draw] on county voting data in every state, precinct data in select locales, and exit polling [to assemble] a picture that's both instructive and not a little frightening."21 Though Menendez succeeds in writing a book on Perot and his impact on American politics, he does so in a way that discourages and bores the average reader.
     From Menendez's point of view, the 1992 presidential race marked a watershed in American political and cultural history in two major ways. First and foremost, the American public recognized their discontent and voiced this at the voting polls through third-party candidate Ross Perot. Feeling ignored by Republicans and Democrats alike, the people challenged the idea of a two-party system by voting for someone outside: Ross Perot. This led to the Republican shift in Congress, as well as the overthrow of Bush in favor of Clinton. Instead of having to take an extremely conservative or liberal stance, voters found an alternative in the moderate Perot. As Menendez points out, "the Perot phenomenon is greater than Perot himself¡­ a movement over which he has only partial control."22 To Menendez, the 1992 election is a prophetic event: one that foreshadows an America with more than two major political parties, with more than two extremes from which to choose.
     Perusing his book more than a decade after it was published, contemporary readers recognize Menendez's faulty predictions about the legacy Perot will leave in the political realm. Despite this, however, the 1992 presidential race did mark a milestone in that it reasserted the power of the people in American government. By the will of the people, an underdog armed with little more than "infomercials, books, and high-toned political debate" rose to compete with the biggest political gurus of the time, proving just how powerful democracy can be, centuries after the framing of the Constitution.23 Ross Perot, in many ways, marked a milestone in American politics. He was a modern-day fairy tale, a political oddity of sorts, an "extraordinary character," a "classic outsider candidate." 24 Though he never did become a great political figure at either federal or local levels, his candidacy in the 1992 election reveals much about the America we are becoming. When slighted, Americans will always find a way to have their voices heard. When neglected, Americans will always root for someone with the courage to care.


1. Menendez, Albert J. The Perot Voters & the Future of American Politics. 59 John Glenn Drive: Prometheus Books., 1993, 19. 2. Menendez, Albert J. 19 3. Menendez, Albert J. 27 4. Menendez, Albert J. 35 5. Menendez, Albert J. 36 6. Menendez, Albert J. 46 7. Menendez, Albert J. 54 8. Menendez, Albert J. 64 9. Menendez, Albert J. 67-68 10. Menendez, Albert J. 71 11. Menendez, Albert J. 83 12. Menendez, Albert J. 182 13. Menendez, Albert J. 188 14. Menendez, Albert J. 195 15. Menendez, Albert J. 16 16. Menendez, Albert J. 222 17. Hallum, Anne Motley. 39 J. Church & St. 614 (1997); Book Reviews. 18. Hallum, Anne Motley. 19. Menendez, Albert J. 59 20. Powers, Bob; Columbia Free Press; http://www.freepress.org/Backup/UnixBackup/ pubhtml/books/Perot_Voters_and_the_Future_of_American_Politics.html 21. Powers, Bob. 22. Hallum, Anne Motley. 23. Menendez, Albert J. 20 24. Menendez, Albert J. 16

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