Thirty years ago tonight, the nation witnessed its most recent classic national landslide when President Ronald Reagan won 49 of the 50 states against former Vice President Walter Mondale. When the numbers were counted, Reagan had more than 58% of the popular vote and more than 500 electoral votes.
Other presidential elections have been labeled landslide, but they weren't really. Not by the statistical definition of a landslide. The generally accepted benchmarks for a landslide have been when a candidate receives (1) at least 55% of the popular vote, (2) at least 400 electoral votes and (3) more votes than anyone else in at least three–fourths of the states.
In 1988, Reagan's vice president, George H.W. Bush came closest of anyone since Reagan's time to winning a true landslide. Bush won more than three–fourths of the states worth more than 400 electoral votes, but his popular vote tally was 53%. If he had won about 1.5 million votes that went instead to Democrat Michael Dukakis or other candidates on the ballot, Bush could have claimed a legitimate landslide.
Bill Clinton's victories in 1992 and 1996 have been mentioned as landslides, but Clinton never exceeded 50% of the popular vote, nor did he win at least 400 electoral votes or carry three–fourths of the states.
George W. Bush was the winner of two cliffhangers. Barack Obama's margins were larger than Bush's, but he didn't meet any of the three requirements for a landslide, either.
It isn't easy to win by a landslide. Frankly, it is hard enough for most candidates simply to win. But Reagan was one of those people to whom triumph seemed to come easily. But that was really misleading. Reagan had his share of setbacks earlier in his life. Most Americans — outside the Californians who knew him as their governor — only really knew him in his later years, when things really did seem to come easily to him.
Reagan had his issues, and there are those who claim to this day that, when he won his second term, he was already experiencing the early stages of the dementia that eventually took his life, but his electoral accomplishments are beyond dispute.
His first election had been impressive — beating an incumbent president by 10 percentage points and sweeping all but half a dozen states — but his second election was resounding. It left no room for doubt about who was preferred by the voters.