The results support Gore’s decision to minimize his association with Clinton. A Clinton-Bush 2000 matchup would have been close. But in reality, Gore beat Bush in the popular vote — and Clinton would have failed to do so. By this measure, Clinton was clearly less of a liability than LBJ was against Nixon in 1968, or than George W. Bush was against Obama in 2008.
But even though Clinton’s job approval ratings in 2000 were nearly identical to Reagan’s in 1988, he was not the same kind of the electoral asset. Nor was Clinton the asset that Obama was to Hillary Clinton in 2016. The whole scandal — from the first news of the affair, to the special prosecutor’s damaging report, to the impeachment vote, and finally to the Senate trial, all damaged Clinton’s image. Even a not-guilty verdict in the Senate couldn’t erase the stain on Clinton, and by association the Democrats.
Of course, we can’t automatically assume that Clinton’s integrity affected how Americans voted in 2000. After all, he wasn’t on the ballot. But I used a multivariate model of the 2000 vote — and found that how Americans responded to a question about Clinton’s impact on the nation’s moral climate were strongly related to how they voted, even after controlling for a variety of other factors. In fact, this had a greater influence on voting than responses to a similarly worded question about Clinton’s impact on the economy.