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Landslide Definition in Politics

By

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, pictured here in 1924, won a landslide victory in 1936 against Alfred M. Landon.

Picture courtesy of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library.

We all know that the term landslide election is used to describe an overwhelming, resounding or decisive political victory. But how much is a landslide election? Is there a certain margin of victory that qualifies as a landslide election? If so, what is it?

We'll take a look at what a constitutes a landslide election in both presidential and congressional races, but the term can also be applied to lopsided elections at both the state and local levels as well. We'll also learn about the history of the term landslide election and how it's been used in American political history.

Landslide Election Definition

There is no legal or constitutional definition of what a landslide election is, or how wide an electoral victory margin must be in order for a candidate to have won in a landslide.

But many modern-day political commentators and media pundits use the term landslide election freely to describe campaigns in which the victor was a clear favorite during the campaign and goes on to win with relative ease.

How Much a Landslide Election Is

One generally agreed upon measure of a landslide election is when the winning candidate beats his opponent or opponents by at least 15 percentage points in a popular vote count. Under that scenario a landslide would occur when the winning candidate in a two-way election receives 58 percent of the vote, leaving his opponent with 42 percent.

There are variations of the 15-point landslide definition.

The online political-news source Politico has defined a landslide election as being on in which the winning candidate beats his opponent by at least 10 percentage points, for example.

And the well known political blogger Nate Silver, of The New York Times, has defined a landslide district as being one in which a presidential vote margin deviated by at least 20 percentage points from the national result.

Electoral College Landslide Definition

Of course, the United States does not elect its presidents by popular vote. It instead uses the Electoral College system.

There are 538 electoral votes up for grabs in a presidential race, so how many would a candidate have to win to achieve a landslide?

Again, there is no legal or constitutional definition of a landslide in a presidential election. But political journalists have offered their own suggested guidelines for determining a landslide victory over the years.

One generally agreed upon definition of an Electoral College landslide is a presidential election in which the winning candidate secures at least 375 or 70 percent of the electoral votes.

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