On this day in 1936, in the depths of the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt, the incumbent president, defeated Republican Gov. Alf Landon of Kansas in a landslide. The election took place as the Depression had entered its eighth year and while Roosevelt was still seeking to propel his New Deal economic policies through Congress and a recalcitrant U.S. Supreme Court.
In seeking a second term, FDR won the highest share of the popular and electoral vote since the largely uncontested election of 1820. His victory anchored the New Deal coalition until 1953 when Dwight D. Eisenhower restored the GOP to the White House.
The legislation FDR had already shepherded to fruition, such as Social Security and unemployment benefits, had proven to be highly popular among many Americans. Landon, a political moderate, accepted much of the New Deal’s agenda, although he criticized it as wasteful and inefficient. Late in the campaign, Landon also accused Roosevelt of corruption — by which he meant that he had allegedly amassed so much power that he was subverting the Constitution.
Some political pundits predicted that it would be a close race. In the event, Roosevelt’s victory marked the greatest electoral landslide since the advent of today’s two-party system in the late 1850s.
Roosevelt took 60.8 percent of the popular vote, while Landon won 36.5 percent. Roosevelt carried every state except Maine and Vermont, which together cast eight electoral votes. By winning 523 electoral votes, Roosevelt received 98.49 percent of the electoral vote total, which remains the highest percentage of the electoral vote won by any candidate since 1820.
Roosevelt also won the highest share of the popular vote since 1820, although President Lyndon B. Johnson would win a slightly higher share in his 1964 contest against Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.). No major party candidate has won so few electoral votes since the 1936 election. The closest anyone has come was President Ronald Reagan’s 1984 Democratic opponent, former Vice President Walter Mondale, who won 13 electoral votes.
As of 2018, even after a quarter century as a reliable “blue” state that supports Democratic presidential candidates, Vermont has voted for more Republican presidential nominees than any other state. From 1856 through 1960, Vermont consistently gave its electoral votes to the Republican nominee. No other state has voted so many consecutive times for candidates of the same party.
Maine once held a similar record, voting from 1856 through 1960 for the Republican candidate in every presidential election but one, when, in 1912, it gave Democrat Woodrow Wilson a plurality with 39.43 percent of the vote.
In 1936, Roosevelt was the first Democrat to carry Pennsylvania since James Buchanan won it in 1856. Pennsylvania narrowly again returned to the Republican column in 2016 when it gave its 20 electoral votes to Donald J. Trump.