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The Biden ‘Landslide’ Canard

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden reacts to early results from the presidential election, in Wilmington, Del., November 4, 2020. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

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.”

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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