Does a landslide win change things?

The last couple of elections have been very close, and this election might end up extremely close as well.

Historically speaking, does a landslide win seem to affect the winner’s presidency? Does it affect the winning party? The losing party? Is it just considered a referendum on the personal popularity of the candidate or is it taken in the larger context of the party? Has any loss ever been so big that the losing party was forced to reject what it identified as the losing issues?

Of course. A landslide win generally gives the winner the claim to a ‘mandate’, which helps stifle opposition to his or her plans. Likewise, a landslide win can make the opposing party do a lot of soul searching and either reconstruct the party from the ground up or begin a spiral into decline. The ‘Contract with America’ from the Republicans was a direct result of the retooling the party did after Bush got clobbered by Clinton after having a 91% approval rating only a year earlier.

A landslide win by a Presidential candidate also often brings with it long ‘coattails’, helping other candidates of the party to win their elections. If Obama wins in a landslide, there’s a decent chance the Democrats could wind up with a veto-proof majority in the House, Senate, or both.

GWB claimed a mandate after losing the popular vote, so I’m not sure that claims of a mandate have any effect.

Also, GWB has had what I would consider a very partisan presidency despite winning by such a slim margin.

Do you think a claimed mandate is as or close to as powerful as an landslide mandate? I believe Bush claimed a mandate post 2004, which on the one hand was an electorate-communicated vindication of his first term (put claims of electoral chicanery aside, I don’t want to sidetrack things), but on the other hand, given the paper thin margin was a mandate, if any, by his base only. Contrast that with, say Reagan’s victories, where landslides gave him a different type of mandate to claim.

Either party is likely to claim a mandate; if it’s not a landslide, do you think it will be more than puffery? Puffery or not, politician-speak drives a lot of politics: do you think the mere claim of mandate (assuming the spin is successful) will garner the benefits you referred to? Or is this something that can only be told after the fact, when the full scope and perspective of an administration can be captured?

Of course they all find some reason to claim a mandate. No one is going to win the Presidency and say, “Oh, that was a squeaker! I know you people are iffy about me, so I’ll be really careful, okay?”

Nonetheless, real mandates do have more weight. But there are limits. Schwartzenegger had a mandate in California, and used it pretty effectively for a while - even threatening to go over the heads of the legislature and talk directly to the people. That worked for a while, but eventually he got pushback, and then he did go to the people - and lost. And now he plays a much more humble game.

Another danger of a ‘mandate’ is that it can allow you to over-reach. Clinton’s first two years were a disaster. He brought a bunch of left-wing types into his cabinet, tried to ride rough-shod over the Congress, announced a grand plan to reform health care, etc. The result was an electoral backlash that swept Democrats out of the House and Senate and made Newt Gingrich the Speaker of the House. It also made Clinton a much better President.

So even if you have a real mandate, you have to exercise prudence and bipartisanship.

Sam Stone hit it right on the nose here. I remember when Bush won in 2004 and claimed a mandate one of his quotes was something like “I’ve got political capital now, and I plan to spend it.” The trouble is, with political capital like any capital, you can’t spend more than you have without going bankrupt. You need to put some aside for a rainy day.

I looked up the exact quote. November 4, 2004 George Bush said; “Let me put it to you this way: I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it. It is my style.”

I’ve long wondered about that. Had Perot not been in the race, would Clinton have won by such a large margin? Would he have won at all? As a democrat, Perot held little appeal for me and I always assumed his candidacy cost Bush much more than Clinton.

I think Sam Stone is on target here. In the case of the 2008 election, though, the fact that Democrats would have control of the presidency and both houses of Congress would probably be more significant than the mandate from a landslide.

In this case again, the results of the Congressional elections (Obama or McCain’s proverbial coattails) would also factor in to any claims of a mandate. It looks like the Democrats will gain seats in the House and Senate again, and it may even be possible that no incumbent Democrats will lose for the second straight time. Even if Obama wins a squeaker, that would give him a pretty strong rationale in saying people want a big change from the Bush administration and that the public supports his views.

We’re also not even talking about the very important state legislative races that are also being contested. We’re coming up on the census and redistricting. Coattails and a huge Obama turnout can help the Dems pick up seats in state assemblies which are going to be drawing legislative districts.

Not necessarily. Reagan’s landslide win in 1984 was less important, less of a realignment election, than his much closer original win in 1980. See this thread on “game-changing” elections.

I don’t remember that. Do you have a cite? He claimed he had “political capital” to spend after 2004, but I’m not even sure he claimed to have a mandate then, and he won the popular vote by something like 3%.

I thought, too, that Bush used the word “mandate,” but it was one Dick Cheney who used it.

Clinton almost certainly would have won. Unless you assume that a huge majority of Perot’s votes would have gone to Bush, Clinton wins the election.

1992 was not precisely a landslide, but it’s important to remember what Sam Stone was saying; Clinton beat Bush the year after Bush had acheived an approval rating of 91%. It’s not commonly recalled now, but Bush in 1991 was just assumed to be utterly invincible. People made jokes about it. David Letterman had a “Top Ten Things George Bush Would Have To Do To Lose The 1992 Election,” which included things like strangling kittens on live TV. Everyone figured the Democratic nominee was nothing more than a sacrifical lamb.

I think my brain is misleading me, so I’m going to withdraw that. Stupid brain. No cookie for you!

Well a popular vote landslide would bring a lot of downticket victories riding along too - an Obama Bonanza - which might get to the magic 60 in the Senate.

Obama doesn’t strike me as an overreacher legislatively. I think he’d still try to get things through that at least gave the appearence of reaching across the aisle. But it would give him some political capital to play with.

He’d still be dealing with a circumstance of decresing revenues and having to decide how to deal with that.

How would the GOP regroup? Hell even if it is just a narrow loss they have some serious in-family discussions coming up. Do they rally around their hardest line or move to a true middle ground?

The reason that political races are so close, so often, is that if they’re not close, the parties realign themselves until it is close again. When Bush just barely won in 2000, the Democrats were able to say “Well, we almost made it. If we try the same things again, then maybe next time the coin flip will go our way”, and nothing changed. By contrast, if Obama wins in a landslide, then high-ups in the Republican party will be looking long and hard at why that happened, and what they can change to have a chance in the next one (which will likely involve giving up ground on some issues). This can have ramifications that last much longer than 4 or 8 years, so in some senses, the difference between a close Obama victory and a landslide Obama victory can be greater than the difference between a close Obama victory and a close McCain victory.

This, in turn, means that every vote really does count, even if you’re in a state that’s a foregone conclusion will go one way or the other, or even if it’s a foregone conclusion that the whole national election will go one way or the other, since even where victory or defeat is already certain, it’s still up in the air just how big that victory or defeat will be.