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Distribution of votes in the 1988 US presidential election

The 1988 US presidential election was contested between incumbent Vice President George H. W. Bush of the Republican Party, and Michael S. Dukakis of the Democratic Party. As Reagan was ending his presidency with popularity levels on par with any other twentieth century president, Bush began his campaign as the frontrunner for the Republican nomination. His main competitors were Senator Bob Dole and televangelist Pat Robertson, however Bush's campaign experience and financial backing could not be matched by his opponents, and Bush was nominated unanimously as the Republican candidate. The initial frontrunner for the Democratic nomination was Gary Hart, a moderate who had performed well in the 1984 primary and could appeal to opposition voters. When news of an extramarital affair emerged, the scandal damaged Hart's reputation beyond repair and he dropped out of the race one week after the story went nationwide (the scandal was re-popularized in the 2018 film "The Front Runner", starring Hugh Jackman). Following Hart's withdrawal, and with many high profile Democrats refusing to run, there was no clear Democratic frontrunner; Joe Biden also dropped out after it emerged that he had plagiarized a speech from an English politician. Eventually, Michael Dukakis emerged victorious following a tight campaign against civil rights leader Jesse Jackson and future-Vice President Al Gore.


Bush pledged to build on the work he'd done in the Reagan administration (where he took over many presidential responsibilities as Reagan's health declined), and promised that there would be no new taxes were he elected as president (a claim that would prove detrimental in the next election). Dukakis on the other hand had to restore the electorate's faith in the Democratic Party and campaigned as a moderate in order to reclaim as many "Reagan Democrats" as possible; in order to combat this the Bush campaign painted Dukakis as an extreme liberal. The campaign is remembered for the high-number of personal attacks from both sides, and false rumors of an alleged affair involving Bush, and claims of Dukakis having a mental illness and his wife burning the American flag during anti-Vietnam protests. While Dukakis was the favorite at the beginning of the race, Bush's attacks had brought things level going into the debates; Bush's victories in the debates eventually put him ahead in the polls going into election day.


Bush emerged victorious from the election, taking more than 53 percent of the popular vote, and almost eighty percent of the electoral votes. In contrast, Dukakis took almost 46 percent of the popular vote, but won in just 10 states and Washington DC, whereas Bush carried forty states. One faithless elector voted for the Democratic candidates in the opposite positions, as a protest against the electoral college system. This election was the first time since 1836 when an incumbent vice president was elected as president, and was the last time where California and the majority of the northeast voted for the Republican nominee. It was also the last time where the Republican candidate received more votes than the Democratic nominee among female voters.

Share of electoral college* and popular votes** in the 51st US presidential election in 1988

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Release date



United States

Survey time period


Supplementary notes

*Actual number of electoral votes:
George H. W. Bush - 426
Michael S. Dukakis - 111
Lloyd Bentsen - 1

**Actual number of popular votes:
George H. W. Bush - 48,886,597
Michael S. Dukakis - 41,809,476
Lloyd Bentsen - 0

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