8

Biden is currently 4 million votes ahead of Trump (73,716,018 vs. 69,645,113), with postal and absentee votes currently being tallied which generally favor Biden, and Pennsylvania and Georgia seem to be "swinging" in his direction. However, headlines report Trump should have lost in a landslide. The fact that he didn’t speaks volumes and Pundits Pointed to Blue Wave and Landslide Win for Biden.

I don't understand why a landslide win for Biden is widely considered impossible, while Biden-leaning votes are still being counted: the so-called red mirage.

Question: Why is a "landslide win" for Biden considered impossible in the 2020 election?

6
  • 38
    Please provide your definition of a "landslide win". – Joe C Nov 6 '20 at 4:37
  • 5
    I know that both sides were hoping for a landslide. That didn't happen. The general population would have much longer fingernails if this had happened. – David Hammen Nov 6 '20 at 5:09
  • 5
    Even in the famed 1984 reelection of Ronald Reagan, Reagan only got 58.8% of the vote to Mondale's 40.6%. In terms of the electoral college it was a landslide: 525-13. But in terms of the popular vote, can we call less than 60% a landslide? – Kyralessa Nov 6 '20 at 13:46
  • 2
    If current trends hold, we're headed for an electoral vote of 306-232, which is ironically the same tally as 2016 but in reverse - Trump himself described that win as a "landslide", although objectively, that's among the narrowest 25% of electoral margins in history. But at least by Trump's definition of "landslide", we may indeed be headed toward a landslide win for Biden (although most would take issue with that definition). – Nuclear Hoagie Nov 6 '20 at 18:22
  • 1
    OP: do you appreciate that the "popular vote" in USA presidential elections has no standing? I note that you asked your question when the challenger had won around 253 delegates to the electoral college against the incumbent's 214: the fact that by the only metric that matters the candidates are running pretty level is sufficient answer to your question. – Mark Morgan Lloyd Nov 6 '20 at 18:36
35

In a real landslide, Biden would not "just" win the presidency:

  1. He'd also win Texas, Florida, Ohio, and all the other battleground states that went for Trump. He'd win by such a margin that Trump disputing the election results (via lawsuits) would be laughably futile. Maybe he'd even win a state nobody thought he would win, such as Utah.
  2. The Democrats would also wipe out the Republicans in both the House and Senate elections, expanding their majority in the former and seizing control of the latter.

None of this happened. In fact as of time of writing, Biden hasn't even won the presidency. If Trump were to win, this election would morph into a very successful one for the Republicans - they effectively achieve all their election goals.

For comparison, the 2020 New Zealand general election is what the media have also called a "landslide". The winner in that election broke records, beating the next-largest party by a roughly 2-to-1 margin.

1
  • 10
    Obama 08 is a good US example for what a modern wave election looks like. 1980 style waves simply will not happen anymore absent dramatic shifts in US politics, parties are far too sorted ideologically then they were decades ago. – eps Nov 6 '20 at 13:22
15

Popular vote

Going by the numbers in your question, we have a four million margin on a total number of votes cast of over 143 million. That's less than 2.8%. Looking at the historical popular vote margins on Wikipedia, I would say that any margin below 5% is standard, not a landslide. For example, Obama's 2008 presidential election win had a margin of 7.27%.

Electoral college

The second metric by which you might consider it a landslide is by how much they win in the electoral college. If and by what margin that happens is too early to call in this election. It could be a decisive victory by number of electors if Biden wins most of the states that haven't been called yet.

Whether it's a landslide depends on the context. Again, we can look at Wikipedia which also maintains a table on the electoral college margin. In the last ten presidential elections, there have been two (1980 & 1984) where the winner won over 90% of the electoral college by number of electors. That's a landslide. In 2008, Obama got 67.84%, that's over two-thirds, so you could say that's a landslide as well. In fact, of those last 10 elections, 6 elections were won with a 67%+ electoral college margin.

At the moment, the New York Times predicts Biden has 253 electors 'in the bag', and the remaining states are good for 71 electors. In his best case scenario he would win all of those, giving him 324 electors. That's only 324/538=60.22% of the electoral college. It's decisive, but not really a landslide considering the electoral college margins in (recent) history. And that's only in the best case scenario.

2
  • Since yesterday AP has been calling 264 electors for Biden. – Barmar Nov 6 '20 at 17:24
  • @Barmar, since yesterday, the AP has been criticized for calling Arizona for Biden: the size of his lead over Trump has been consistently shrinking (but probably not fast enough for Trump to take the lead). – Mark Nov 6 '20 at 19:54
7

Why is a “landslide win” for Biden considered impossible in the 2020 election?

If this had been a "landslide win", no matter what metric one uses to qualify a victory as a landslide, and no matter which candidate won by a landslide, the winner of said landslide would have been obvious on the evening of Election Day.

That is not what happened.

Mr. Biden did not win by a landslide, nor did Mr. Trump. The United States instead finds itself in a nail-biter of an election. A nail biter is the exact opposite of a landslide. The best that Mr. Biden can do is perhaps 51% of the popular votesfor presidential electors. That is not a landslide.

Garnering 55% of the popular vote might qualify as a landslide, as a bare minimum, but neither candidate is close. Garnering over 370 electoral votes might qualify as a landslide, as a bare minimum, but neither candidate is close to that threshold, either.

4
  • 7
    That's not really true. Due to the unprecedented situation with an ongoing pandemic and a president who tried to delegitimize mail-in ballots, it was very hard to predict how those mail-in ballots would lean. If Texas, Ohio, NC and some other states had gone the same way Michigan went, with a narrow Trump lead on election night turning into a safe Biden win, it would have been a nail-biter that turned into a landslide. Not what happened in this case, but such a situation is definitely possible, so I disagree that the two words are opposites. – FrederikVds Nov 6 '20 at 13:37
  • 6
    (A nail-biter refers more to suspense (and thus to unpredictability), a landslide refers to the result being overwhelming.) – FrederikVds Nov 6 '20 at 13:39
  • @FrederikVds What, exactly, is "not really true"? While Biden apparently did receive a majority of the vote, it was barely a majority. That does not constitute a landslide. Biden might receive 307 electoral votes. That also does not constitute a landslide. – David Hammen Nov 6 '20 at 19:29
  • 1
    It's not really true that a landslide has to be obvious on election day itself. They obviously often are, but not necessarily. – FrederikVds Nov 7 '20 at 10:25
2

"landslide" is a relative term. However, it inherently indicates an inarguable decisive victory, not one that can be plausibly argued to have been a close election.

The best Biden can do as of the posting of this question was 326 EVs (out of 540). Most likely he well get less than that, and losing instead is still a non-zero possibility. We don't really know the "popular vote" margin yet, and likely won't for weeks due to California (the most populous state by far) being very pro-Biden, and taking its usual sweet time to count. It will likely be larger than Clinton's but remember she lost.

For reference, the biggest electoral vote win in recent history was Obama's 365 in 2008. Few people who weren't big Obama boosters seriously call that one a "landslide". I suppose an argument can be made, but it would be an argument. By the nature of the term, it shouldn't have to be an argument.

The last generally-agreed "landslide" election was in 1988, where Bush (Sr.) got 426 EV's and a margin of 8% of the popular votes. Others in this category are (in reverse order):

  • 1984 - 525 & 18% Margin
  • 1980 - 489 & 10% Margin
  • 1972 - 520 & 23% margin

Its pretty clear Biden's victory (assuming it actually happens) is not going to be in that class.

4
  • Possibly worth noting that 306 EC votes has been described as a big number by one candidate. – Jontia Nov 6 '20 at 19:29
  • 1
    @Jontia - ...who has a well-documented pattern of lying. Using a statement from Trump in a factual discussion is the rhetorical equivalent of dividing by zero in a math proof. – T.E.D. Nov 6 '20 at 19:31
  • 1
    if it's big for you, it's big for them. I'm not sure what in that particular statement could be called a lie though. As your answer makes clear, there isn't a good definition of 'landslide'. Big feels smaller than landslide, but it's all debatable. – Jontia Nov 6 '20 at 19:35
  • @Jontia In Mr. Trump's mind, he always wins bigly, he always has the largest rallies, and he always has the largest inauguration celebrations. – David Hammen Nov 6 '20 at 19:56

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .