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What Is a Landslide Election?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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A landslide election is an election in which one candidate wins by a substantial margin. The precise definition of a landslide varies, with some people saying that the margin needs to consist of five points or more, setting a relatively low bar, while others say that the margin should be much higher, closer to 10 or 15 points. If a candidate achieves a landslide victory, it suggests a strong mandate from the people.

One notable landslide election occurred in France in 2002, when Jacques Chirac took an astounding 82% of the vote. The 1972 American election between Richard Nixon and George McGovern also ended with a landslide victory for Nixon, who took almost 61% of the popular vote, and 520 electoral votes out of a possible 538. McGovern managed to get 37% of the popular vote, and 17 electoral votes, with a Libertarian candidate picking up the remaining electoral vote. Franklin D. Roosevelt achieved a similar landslide victory in 1936 when running against Alf Landon.

Landslide victories are rare, especially in large countries. The electorate is often deeply split, making it difficult for candidates to takes votes from citizens who belong to opposing parties. Usually, landslide elections occur when the citizens of a country are frustrated with the way in which the government has been run, and they select a candidate of an opposition party in the hopes of improving their situation. While it helps if a candidate is charismatic, often a landslide reflects support of a particular political party, rather than support of an individual candidate.

There are a number of reasons why politicians and political parties like to see a landslide election. In the first place, candidates usually take a landslide victory to suggest that they have a great deal of popular support. The political parties which back the candidates also hope to use the momentum of the landslide to accomplish a number of tasks which require citizen support. In years when a head of state is elected by a landslide, political parties also hope that the voters will elect people from the head of state's political party into the legislature, giving the political party more power.

Because a landslide election also represents a definitive victory, it can eliminate uncertainty. In nations where elections are frequently contested, with results being battled over by feuding parties, a landslide settles the matter on election day. This allows the candidates to get ready to take their positions in the government, and it eases unrest and concern among citizens, as uncertainty about an election can hurt the economy and cause general chaos until the matter is sorted out.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Historical Index researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon317981 — On Feb 05, 2013

Chirac wasn't exactly a popular president. The reason for his landslide reelection was that the far-right National Front unexpectedly made it onto the second ballot. All the other parties then rallied behind Chirac.

Landslide elections happen in the UK. Margaret Thatcher won two in 1983 and 1987, partly due to a split in the left. Tony Blair came to power by a landslide in 1997 and won another one in 2001. Other examples are 1945 (when Labour ousted Churchill), 1931 (the last time a party won an absolute majority of the vote) and 1906 (the beginning of the Liberal reforms).

By anon301882 — On Nov 06, 2012

I have no doubt that whoever wins the 2012 presidential election, landslide or no landslide, the other political party will blame the media for being "friendly" to that enemy side by overstating hourly, daily, that the race was so very close, a toss-up even. Landslide? We shall see.

By goldenmist — On May 05, 2011

@redstaR - Probably important to note that last years election was the furthermost thing from a landslide. The results were so close we didn't even know who actually won until about a week later. This has the opposite effect of a landslide election, creating uncertainty in the government.

By redstaR — On May 03, 2011

I remember when former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd won in 2007 the newspapers were calling it a "Ruddslide". Then three years later, he lost the support of key factional heads within his party and was more or less asked to step down. Julia Gillard took over and was re-elected just last year. Things can change in politics very quickly I guess.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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