HomeHistoryUS History: Top 10 Presidential Landslides In U.S. Elections

US History: Top 10 Presidential Landslides In U.S. Elections

Though it may seem a bit foreign in today era of politics, there was a time when candidates running in presidential elections would win with a major victory in both the electoral and popular vote thus leading to many referring to those wins as presidential ‘landslides’. Many of the candidates involved in these victories ended up feeling a sense of great satisfaction after what appears to be a no-brainer of a victory and in this list, I will be ranking ten of the biggest wins in election history based on how dominant and terrible the candidates on both sides did base on the number for electoral votes and popular votes they ended up getting.

10. Alton B. Parker vs. Theodore Roosevelt (1904)

By the start of the 20th century, Theodore Roosevelt was in charge of the country following the assassination of William McKinley by an anarchist in September of 1901. During his time in office, Roosevelt would accomplish a lot of feats like ending the Russo Japanese War, approving the construction of the Panama Canal and signing numerous bills that would eventually lead to the Pure Food and Drug Act;

By all accounts, Teddy was a tremendous president hence the reason why his face is on Mount Rushmore but nevertheless, there was an election coming soon, so the Democratic Party had to find someone to compete with T.R.

While names like William Jennings Bryan and former President Grover Cleveland were considered, they all turned it down thus leading to the Democrats choosing Alton Parker, who was the Chief Judge for New York’s Court of Appeals as their nominee.
Parker was at disadvantage from the beginning in the 1904 election due to the fact that he lacked the charisma to excite the voters, plus a well-maligned speech her gave criticizing Roosevelt’s foreign policy certainly didn’t help.

Both Roosevelt and Parker agreed on similar issues which made the outcome even more obvious to many voters and as a result of Teddy Roosevelt easily defeated Alton B. Parker winning 336 electoral votes and 56% of the popular vote compared to Alton Parker’s 140 electoral votes and roughly 38% of the popular vote.

The election of 1904 continued a wave of Republican dominance within the White House that wouldn’t be halted until the election of Woodrow Wilson from 1913-1921.

9. Warren G. Harding vs. James Cox (1920)

A few years following the end of World War One, President Woodrow Wilson had fallen out of favour with many due to the fact that he failed to keep his 1916 presidential campaign promise to keep America out of the great war, enforcing institutionalized racism within the government and the U.S. itself and the fact that Wilson was also suffering many stokes which made it hard for him to function let alone run the country.

In the 1920 election, the Democrats nominated Governor of Ohio and founder of what would become Cox Enterprises, James M. Cox while the Republicans chose an unexpected candidate in the form of Ohio Senator, Warren G. Harding who used to be a newspaperman himself before entering politics.

During a period of unrest and great fear thanks to the Red Scare of 1919, Harding would proclaim a “Return To Normalcy” for the United States, which was the senator’s way of saying that Americans should return to the peace and tranquillity they had occurred before the U.S.’s involvement in World War One.

Harding also had the support of many females in America, who were now given the right to vote thanks to the passing of the 19th Amendment. Cox meanwhile didn’t do much to separate his personality and political stances from the incumbent president and the media’s constant portrayal and linking of Cox/Wilson in the newspapers didn’t change that.

By November, Warren G. Harding would win with 404 electoral votes and 60 per cent of the popular vote compared to James Cox who received only 127 electoral votes and 34 per cent of the popular vote.

Unfortunately for Harding, he would die in office in 1923 leaving his Vice President Calvin Coolidge to become the 30th President in American History eventually leading into an economic boom period in the United States known as “The Roaring Twenties”.

8. Michael Dukakis vs. George HW Bush (1988)

With the United States under the control of the Republican Party for much of the 1980s (more on that later), George H.W. Bush was looking to follow in his predecessor’s footsteps and maintain the hold that the Republicans had in Washington.

To do that, Bush would have to tangle with Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis who helped in leading the economic growth and decrease in unemployment in a period known to some as the “Massachusetts Miracle”.

After defeating future Democratic heavyweights: Al Gore and Joe Biden among others in the primaries, Dukakis become the nominee and decided to use his experience of being raised by an immigrant family in order to seem more sympathetic to voters, but there were a lot of obstacles that Dukakis faced during this election and many of them weren’t even legit. 

For starters, the economy was doing remarkably well which served to boost Bush’s chances in the election but Dukakis also had to deal with rumours perpetrated by George Bush’s campaign manager, Harvey “Lee” Atwater that Dukakis had mental health issues after refusing to release his medical records and that allegedly his wife had once burned a U.S. flag… but both claims were proven to be false.

Dukakis’ inability to connect with voters with his personality during debates made things worse as his response to a question on if he would favour an irrevocable death penalty on someone who assaulted his wife was seen as cold and robotic. 
The biggest blunder of his campaign came when the Massachusetts Governor decided to stage a photo-op whilst riding inside a tank to look like he knew stuff about the military damaged his chances.

The final nail in the coffin in this election for the Massachusetts governor came when the topic of the death penalty was brought up the during debates as Dukakis approved of a program that would allow prisoners who were charged with first-degree murder to be released although temporarily and an African American male named Willie Horton was also mentioned throughout by the Bush campaign as Horton was one of many who were apart of this program that Dukakis supported and he went on to assault people following his temporary release.

Ultimately, there was no coming back for Michael Dukakis who would only get 111 electoral votes and roughly 46% of the popular vote compared to George H.W. Bush’s 426 electoral votes and roughly 53% of the popular.   

7. Hebert Hoover vs. Alfred “Al” Smith (1928)

For much of the 1920s, there was a lot of prosperity in the United States with many Americans enjoying all the vices that came along with the “Roaring Twenties” around this time. Following Calvin Coolidge’s decision to not seek a second term as president, the Democratic Party would choose Al Smith, who was the Governor of New York City at the time and the Republicans would go with the Secretary of Commerce, Hebert Hoover for the 1928 presidential election.

While Hoover didn’t have much problem with his campaign due to the economic success the country was having, Al Smith, on the other hand, was questioned for his Catholic upbringing with some thinking that he would take orders from The Pope if elected, plus Smith’s connection with the corrupt Tammany Hall establishment, his previous failed attempts for the Democratic nomination and disapproval of Prohibition turned many 1920’s voters away.

Unsurprisingly, Hoover won the election with 444 electoral votes and his 58 per cent of the popular vote compared to Al Smith would get 87 votes and roughly 31 per cent of the popular vote.

While Hoover bragged about how good the economy was doing on the campaign trail, little did Hoover or in fact, many Americans see the Stock Market Crash of 1929 coming which of course led to the Great Depression to which Hoover and his administration were blamed for not doing much to end the crisis.   

6. Dwight D. Eisenhower vs. Adlai Stevenson II (1952 & 1956)

It’s one thing to lose an election once but to lose it twice in a row and in a landslides none the less well now that’s a tough pill to swallow. That is exactly what happened in the 1952 and 56 presidential elections between World War II army general for the Republicans, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Governor of Illinois, Adlai Stevenson the second.  In the 1952 election, both Stevenson and Eisenhower used television when it came to promoting their campaign messages with ads that included the most famous “I Like Ike” commercial.

In the end, it was things like Eisenhower’s popularity as a war hero, his promise to bring the troops back from the Korean War and the perception of Adlai Stevenson as an intellectual and out of touch guy that led to the World War II general becoming the 34th president of the United States with 442 electoral votes and 55% of the popular vote while his opponent had 89 electoral votes and 44% of the popular vote.
Four years later and a rematch between Eisenhower and Stevenson set to take place however unlike in 1952, Stevenson was no match for Eisenhower as the economy was doing well under his presidency and Dwight also agreed with ‘The Brown V. Board of Education’ which allowed school intergradation for many African Americans.

Dwight Eisenhower beat Adlai Stevenson once again, with 457 electoral votes and 57% of the popular votes to Stevenson’s 73 electoral votes and 42% of the popular vote…needless to say Eisenhower easily won and remained the president until the end of his term.     

5. Barry Goldwater vs. Lyndon B. Johnson (1964)

So far on this list, it seems that the Republican Party are no stranger to beating the Democrats in landslides victories when it comes to presidential elections but this next entry proves that even the Dems can pull out an impressive victory.
Lyndon B. Johnson (or LBJ for short) was the vice president until the assassination of John F. Kennedy on November 22nd 1963 at the hands of Lee Harvey Oswald; In the wake of this tragedy, LBJ became the 36th president of the United States and was tasked with not only leading the country during a very turbulent time but also to get himself ready for an up-and-coming election. 

During his presidency, Johnson had to deal with the blowback of signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as many in his party were not on board with the idea of giving African Americans the same rights and liberties as White people living in America. 
On the other side of the political coin, the Republicans had a very competitive primary with many of the more moderate sides of the Republican Party in support of Nelson Rockefeller while many of the more radical, gun-totting conservatives were in support of Arizona Governor, Barry Goldwater.

Thanks to the support of a grassroots like movement that was forming amongst young Republican voters, the Arizona Governor won the nomination with Goldwater looking to run in the 1964 election for two reasons: To become president and to make sure his new brand of conservatism would take over the party. 

Due in large part to Goldwater’s refusing to support (in principle) the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as well as his many speeches which could best be described as radical and extreme, it made things easier for the Johnson campaign to portray Goldwater in a series of commercial ads as a far-right, warmongering lunatic who will most certainly get America into a war. 

As a surprise to no one, Lyndon Baines Johnson remained the 36th president of the United States with a massive 486 electoral votes and 61% of the popular vote to Goldwater’s 52 electoral votes and 39% of the popular vote. 

While he may have given the Republicans one of their worse defeats in presidential election history, in the end, Barry got what he wanted which wasn’t so much the presidency but the takeover of the party as many of the young and older generation who were in support of his radical ideas on conservatism would join to the Republicans, thus leading to the rise of Ronald Regan and to a lesser extent Donald Trump, So I guess you can be called Barry Goldwater ‘The Godfather of the Modern Republican Party’.

4. Abraham Lincoln vs. George McClellan (1864)

The 1864 presidential election happened in the midst of the Civil War between the Union and the Confederate States and following the appointment of Abraham Lincoln as the 16th president, the country would be engulfed in what many still call one of the deadliest wars in American History. Lincoln was having to deal with a few issues within his own party after many in the Republican Party were not pleased with President Lincoln’s support of the Emancipation Proclamation as well as his suspension of Habeas Corpus.

Not only that, but many Americans were beginning to wonder what was even the point of continuing this war as thousands upon thousands of men were dying on an almost daily basis. With election time approaching, the Democratic Party who were just as divided as the Republicans decided to go with a popular Union Army general by the name of George McClellan to challenge incumbent president Lincoln;

McClellan was fired by President Lincoln and now that he was chosen to represent his country on a different platform, the army general saw this as an opportunity at revenge.

While McClellan was in support of continuing the war, the Democrats and McClellan’s running mate, George H. Pendleton wanted to run a more peaceful platform in this election with the goal of ending the Civil War in a much different way. After a few key victories in the war plus the decision by some Democrats and Republicans to support Lincoln ultimately led to Abraham Lincoln getting re-elected with 212 electoral votes and 55% of the popular vote, while McClellan received only 21 electoral votes and 45% of the popular vote. 

But as you already know, President Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth before the Civil War officially ended and while he didn’t live to see the end of the war, Abraham Lincoln is still seen as one of the all-time greatest presidents in the history of the United States.   

3. Richard Nixon vs. George McGovern (1972)

By the early 1970s, Richard Nixon was a very popular president as he managed to ease tensions somewhat thanks to his political tactics when dealing with the Soviet Union and China, plus his promise to bring back the troops from the Vietnam War made Nixon a very beloved figure, the type that was going to be hard to beat.

While names like Ted Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey were considered as possible contenders to challenge Nixon for Democrats, Kennedy said that he wasn’t going to run and Humphrey didn’t really put much effort into his campaign. 

This, combined with a successful smear campaign against Edmund Muskie (who was the vice presidential pick for Humphrey in 68) left the Democratic party very few opinions. Ultimately, with the support of a grassroots movement that were against the Vietnam War and many of Nixon’s policies, Democratic Senator from South Dakota, George McGovern won the nomination.

Although many of the Democratic elites actually wanted Humphrey instead, the young liberals got their way and got McGovern as their nominee; This of course led to the Democratic establishment absolutely refusing to support McGovern and actually airing attack ads criticizing McGovern and supporting Nixon…Something that certainly wouldn’t have happened today.

To say things were difficult for McGovern as a candidate in this election would be a huge understatement as his chosen vice-presidential pick was suffering from mental health problems and this news was released not too long after McGovern fully gave his support to him; Now without VP on his presidential ticket, McGovern had to ask seven different people to be his VP and six of them turned him down which was not only embarrassing but it also severely hurt his chances.  

Much like LBJ before him and George H.W. Bush after him, the Nixon campaign successfully portrayed rival as an ineffectual politician whose views on the Vietnam War and other policies were simply unrealistic and as a result, Richard Nixon obliterated George McGovern with 520 electoral votes and roughly 61% of the popular vote compared to McGovern only getting 17 votes and roughly 38% of the popular vote with Nixon getting 18 million more votes than his rival.

While the Watergate Scandal would destroy his political legacy, Nixon’s 1972 victory is the greatest electoral landslides victory for Republicans in U.S. presidential history…well maybe the second greatest.

2. Ronald Regan vs. Walter Mondale (1984)

As I mentioned early in this list, the Republic Party was in control of the oval office for the entirety of the 1980s and you can thank former actor turn president Ronald Regan for that. After easily defeating Jimmy Carter in the 1976 election, Regan was looking to improve the country following numerous problems that not only plagued America in the 1970s but also Carter’s presidency.

By 1984, Regan had improved the country through economic policies that would be later known as ‘Reganomics’ as well as taking steps to end the Cold War with Soviet Russia; This made it clear for the Republicans re-nominate Regan and his Vice President, George H.W. Bush in the that year’s election.  

On the opposite side of the political party, the Democrats choose as their nominee, Walter Mondale who served as the VP for Jimmy Carter and is often seen as the man who helped to increase the importance of the role of Vice President in America by making sure that the VP would get the same intelligence briefings as the president and even had his own office in the White House.

While Mondale had the backing of his party, he was going up against a lot of massive odds; For example, many Americans including some blue-collar liberals thanked Regan for improving the economy, not to mention that during his acceptance speech for the Democratic nomination Mondale inadvertently said that he would raise taxes as a way to stop a budget deficit that was still in America…as you can imagine this didn’t warm the American people to the idea of a Mondale presidency.

Mondale’s choice of a Vice President, Geraldine Ferraro was historic as she became the first woman in American History to be chosen as a major party’s candidate for VP, however, she ended up hurting Mondale’s chances thanks to problems like her refusal to have her husband’s tax returns be released to the public among other things.
During the first presidential debate, Walter Mondale managed to outshine the “Great Communicator” who looked confused in certain parts, which led to many questioning if Regan should remain as president due to his age as a 73-year-old man.

In the second debate, however, Regan was more focused and he didn’t need to memorize any cue cards for the debate (as he did in the last one), in fact, Regan jokingly responded to a question regarding his age by mentioning that: “I will not make age an issue in this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”

When it was all said and done, Ronald Regan destroyed Walter Mondale in the polls with Regan getting an astonishing 525 electoral votes to Mondale’s 13 votes. Regan got all the states except for Minnesota (which was Mondale’s hometown) and the District of Columbia, handing the Democratic Party one of their worse defeats in presidential election history.

1. Franklin D. Roosevelt vs. Alf Landon (1936)

While Regan and Nixon may have got reelected with more than 500 votes, FDR was doing it first and continued to win throughout his four election runs. Any one of Franklin Roosevelt’s four presidential election victories could have easily made it onto this list but for number one, I chose to go for what some call the greatest landslides victory in U.S. presidential election history.

In 1932, FDR was seeking re-nomination as he and his ‘New Deal Coalition’ were taking the necessary steps to try and help the American people through the Great Depression whilst the Republicans decided to go with the reform-minded Governor of Kansas, Alfred ‘Alf’ Landon as their nominee.

Whilst some in the news media notably ‘Literary Digest’ a mostly conservative read weekly magazine predicted something from a close election to Landon beating Roosevelt in a colossal fashion that didn’t end happening mostly due to the fact that Landon himself didn’t actually campaign or make any campaign appearances with the reasoning as to why never really being explained.

When Landon did appear during the election, he would read off lines fed to him by his campaign manager, John Hamilton with one of Landon’s most well-known attacks against FDR was against the New Deal calling it the largest tax bill in history and calling it “Social Security” is a fraud on the working man.

Due to the fact that the New Deal was very popular with many Americans affected by the Great Depression and the fact the Republicans were partly responsible for the Depression caused by years of Laissez-faire capitalism under the Republican control in the White House and Landon just not going out and campaigning lead to crushing victory for FDR.

Franklin Roosevelt got reelection with 523 electoral votes and roughly 61% of the popular vote whereas Alf Landon got roughly 37% of the popular vote and I kid you not… 8 electoral votes which were just two states: Maine and Vermont

FDR’s election in 1936 was not only a monumental victory for the Democrats but the first time an incumbent president easily got re-election with 500 plus votes and led to the opposing side getting the lowest amount of votes ever received by a candidate for one of the two major parties and for that this is easily the number pick for the best landslide victory in a presidential election.

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