The lack of a clear election night winner has left some in the media dumbfounded, after countless predictions that former vice president Joe Biden would defeat Donald Trump in a “landslide.”
CNN host Jake Tapper reassured Election Night viewers that the idea of a Democratic landslide “was always a pipe dream,” but liberal pundits, some of whom work for his own network, have for months argued that Republicans were in for a repudiation of historic proportions.
Tapper’s colleague Chris Cillizza was one of the loudest landslide predictors, repeatedly positing that the media and pollsters had learned from their failure in 2016 and were no longer discounting Republican support.
“Simply because election models missed the Trump phenomenon the first time around doesn’t mean we should ignore them entirely,” he wrote in September. “The models are updated to reflect the realignment Trump set in motion in 2016. The likelihood, then, of missing some sort of hidden pro-Trump factors in the electorate is much less.”
As the race neared, Cillizza only grew more confident. “There is now a reasonable chance that we may be looking at a major landslide up and down the ballot in two weeks’ time,” he stated last month.
Cillizza was not the only one. “I think that it’s more likely that Joe Biden will win in a landslide, than that Trump will win at all,” esteemed New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof said, a sentiment shared by Times data guru Nate Cohn. “The Coming Biden Landslide,” read a September Bulwark headline.
“This is also the week that journalists and politicos in Washington began wondering about something they never expected to be thinking about this year,” Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan wrote in early October. “They are wondering if Nov. 3 won’t be a win for Joe Biden but a blowout, a landslide in a polarized country that doesn’t produce landslides anymore.” Andrew Sullivan agreed. In a column titled “Dreaming Of A Landslide,” he warned that “it’s tempting fate to mention the idea, foolish to entertain it, mad to expect it,” before going on to argue that “the possibility of a landslide is now real.”
— Anthony Scaramucci (@Scaramucci) October 31, 2020
The models backed up the pundits. FiveThirtyEight’s Election Day model gave Trump a 10 percent chance of winning. Pollsters projected confidence, arguing that the right lessons had been learned from 2016.
One thing that's clear: an apples-to-apples comparison, today, unmistakably shows Biden doing better than Clinton, including among the kind of white, working class voters where we might expect problems. Any issues would almost certainly need to have gotten much worse since '16
— Nate Cohn (@Nate_Cohn) September 10, 2020
Top university and professional polls projected Biden leads across the board, with Republican strongholds like Texas labeled a “toss up.” Niche firms such as Trafalgar, which predicted a 2016 Trump win and showed a tight race, were derided as too heavily skewed towards the president.
Not trying to pick on this person but … polls in Florida are not 50/50. Of the 20 polling firms active in Florida since the debate, 16 show Biden winning, two show a tie, and two (InsiderAdvantage and Trafalgar Group) show Trump ahead. https://t.co/nWUo9X5F4y https://t.co/Z1bDnzUGfY
— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) October 18, 2020
The final averages, however, show many of the same problems even as Biden continues to hold the overall lead. Across nine “swing” states — Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, and Wisconsin — President Trump outperformed the FiveThirtyEight polling average by approximately 4.44 points, and the RealClearPolitics average by approximately 2.78 points. Exit polls show that doomsday predictions about Trump bleeding votes from elderly and woman voters were wide of the mark.
I'm sure this will drive the cable news conversation: Trump actually did better with white women in 2020 than he did in 2016.
2016: Trump 52-43 Clinton
2020: Trump 55-43 Clintonhttps://t.co/E2n1zuasI9
— Josh Kraushaar (@HotlineJosh) November 4, 2020
While the race is far from over, prominent pollster Frank Luntz has said “the political polling profession is done,” after Trump’s showing, calling the lack of accurate polls “devastating for my industry.”