Although it is hard to believe now, earlier in the year supporters of Donald Trump thought he would win easily and possibly by a blowout. Even after the pandemic started, many kept the faith, believing handling COVID-19 well was an opportunity.
There are presidents in traumatic times who won by 20 points in popular vote and 200 or more electoral votes. Since Roosevelt, the biggest winners trying for reelection were Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964 after the Kennedy assassination, Richard Nixon in 1972 in the tensions between the anti-war movement and Silent majority, and Ronald Reagan in 1984 as America emerged from a recession into “Morning in America.”
Looking back, these presidents’ opponents mostly appear hapless and off-key and choice is often an important element of the voters’ decision, but the economic and political context of these elections was even more decisive. In the three landslide elections listed below, only one challenger was above 50 electoral votes and they averaged less than 40 percent of the popular vote (see table below).
However, what President Trump’s team might consider is that he could get the challenger’s popular vote and dramatically fewer electoral votes than Hillary Clinton received in 2016 (227 electoral votes).