Tantamount to election

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"Tantamount to election" is a phrase in the United States to describe a situation in which one political party dominates the demographics of a voting district to a degree where the candidate winning the nomination of the dominant party for a race (whether by primary or another method) will virtually be assured of winning the general election.[1] The phrase "safe seat" is commonly used to describe such a district, though "safe" refers only to the general election, especially after the breakthrough of primary elections at nearly all levels in most jurisdictions.

The phrase originated in the American Solid South when and where the Republican Party was so weak or nonexistent that the general elections were mere formalities, the election having effectively been decided within the Democratic Party.[2] For example, the state of Alabama, which was heavily Democratic, did not have a Republican governor or lieutenant governor between 1874 and 1987. Another example in the opposite political direction is Vermont, where no Democrat served as governor between 1854 and 1963.

The phrase "tantamount to election" may, nonetheless, be employed to describe an electoral situation in an area overwhelmingly dominated by one political party where candidates of the opposing party are up against very steep odds.[3] It can refer to any electoral constituency in which dominance by one party renders candidates of other parties irrelevant.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Political scientist Larry Sabato, e.g., uses the phrase "tantamount to election" in describing how "not a single Virginia Democrat nominated for statewide office in the primary was defeated in the general election for more than threescore years after the primary’s inception in 1905" (Sabato, quoted by Kenneth R. Plum, The changing of power in the Commonwealth, Archived 2010-03-25 at the Wayback Machine Reston Connection, 2003 April 30 [accessed 2009 December 28]).
  2. ^ Jackson Baker, Jamieson, only GOP hopeful, out of race for 89, Memphis Flyer Newsweekly (Contemporary Media, Inc.), 2003 November 6 (accessed 2009 December 28). See also White primaries.
  3. ^ An early instance was James A. Garfield's election to the U.S. House of Representatives from a district so Republican that the Republican nomination was considered "tantamount to election" (quoted from the Garfield biosketch Archived 2009-04-14 at the Wayback Machine on the Ohio Supreme Court site)

Further reading[edit]

  • Larry Sabato, The Democratic Party Primary in Virginia: Tantamount to Election No Longer (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1977); ISBN 0-8139-0726-8; ISBN 978-0-8139-0726-0