'Landslide' for Biden? A look at 40 years of inaccurate presidential polls

'Landslide' for Biden? A look at 40 years of inaccurate presidential polls
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Polls are meant to gauge the pulse of the American people. Relevant, timely polls on current events help provide a snapshot in time — and may make news. Others, particularly those attempting to look months into the future, are less legitimate news and more insignificant conversation pieces. 

So, when news outlets this week touted one poll showing 2020 Democratic frontrunner Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump says lawmakers should censure Schiff Schiff says committees will eventually make impeachment inquiry transcripts public Trump threat lacks teeth to block impeachment witnesses MORE heading to a "landslide" victory, it was hard not to chuckle at the laziness of it all.

The Quinnipiac poll shows Biden up 53-40 on President TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP congressman slams Trump over report that U.S. bombed former anti-ISIS coalition headquarters US to restore 'targeted assistance' to Central American countries after migration deal Trump says lawmakers should censure Schiff MORE. Amplifying this as something significant fails to look at precedent in past presidential prognostications that tell us — practically scream — to take all of this with a grain of salt. 


A look back to 1980 is a prime example. Did you know that Jimmy CarterJimmy CarterOvernight Health Care — Presented by Coalition Against Surprise Medical Billing — Judge blocks Trump 'public charge' rule | Appeals court skeptical of Trump arguments for Medicaid work requirements | CDC offers guidance for treating vaping-related cases In Syria, making America ashamed again — and weaker Garth Brooks on Jimmy Carter's volunteer work: 'Nobody cares about "Republican" or "Democrat" in heaven' MORE once held a 23-point lead over GOP challenger Ronald Reagan in January 1980? This was a time when the economy was in a deep recession while Americans were being held hostage by Iran. Yet, the incumbent held a 59-36 lead over the former California governor and actor in Lou Harris's reputable poll at that time.  

More than 11 months later, Reagan won 44 states in a landslide. His popular vote margin was about 10 points. The difference between the January 1980 poll and November 1980 result: Nearly 33 plus points to Reagan.  

Fast forward to 1988: Democratic challenger Michael Dukakis holds a 17-point lead over then-Vice President George H.W. Bush less than four months before the election, according to Gallup. 

The Massachusetts governor proceeds to take a ride in a tank, a ridiculous photograph of the event is taken, and bye-bye went that huge lead. Bush would go on to win 40 states and easily topped Dukakis in the popular vote by 8 points. The difference between the January 1980 poll and November 1980 result: 25 points.  

The 2003-2004 primary and general election saw huge poll swings. Here's what Quinnipiac reported in December 2003, about 11 months before the election. 

"Among Democratic voters, [Howard] Dean leads with 22 percent, followed by Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman with 13 percent and former Gen. Wesley Clark with 12 percent," the poll result reads.  


The name you don't see in that list of frontrunners is the eventual Democratic nominee, then-Sen. John KerryJohn Forbes KerryDemocrats have reason to worry after the last presidential debate Overnight Energy: Farmers say EPA reneged on ethanol deal | EPA scrubs senators' quotes from controversial ethanol announcement | Perry unsure if he'll comply with subpoena | John Kerry criticizes lack of climate talk at debate John Kerry calls out lack of climate questions at debate MORE (D-Mass). He was in a tie for fifth place with Rev. Al Sharpton polling in the single digits. 

Kerry even surged to a 12-point lead over George W. Bush in February 2004. Bush, despite the war in Iraq turning ugly, won in a close race over Kerry after capturing Ohio. 

Lest we forget 2012 when Gov. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyWar of words at the White House GOP warns Graham letter to Pelosi on impeachment could 'backfire' Club for Growth to run ads in Utah attacking Romney as 'Democrat secret asset' MORE overtook one-time frontrunner (in the polls) Herman CainHerman CainConservatives slam Beto O'Rourke over threat to tax-exempt status for religious organizations President Trump is right: Mainstream media 'do a very good job' Trump says media is part of vetting his nominees: 'We save a lot of money that way' MORE to capture the nomination. In the general, Gallup showed Romney had a six-point lead over President Obama just three weeks before the election. The result: Obama wins the Electoral College quite comfortably, 332-206 while topping Romney by 4 points in the popular vote. That’s a 10-point swing from the October Gallup poll. 

And as President Trump reminded people this week — after being confronted with the Biden-in-a-landslide poll — Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGOP warns Graham letter to Pelosi on impeachment could 'backfire' Hillary Clinton praises former administration officials who testified before House as 'gutsy women' Third-quarter fundraising sets Sanders, Warren, Buttigieg apart MORE had a 12-point lead in ABC's tracking poll on Oct. 23. Three days later, Clinton led by 14 points in an AP poll. 

Clinton would go on to win the popular vote by about 3 million votes, which only earned her a concession speech. Trump topped the former Secretary of State in the only states that matter in presidential elections: Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio. 

What should 2016 teach us? That national polls mean little, especially at this stage of the game. And as Election Day approaches, polling resources should be poured into the aforementioned states that matter. 

Yet, the media is loving polls now more than ever. 

While the latest numbers aren't favorable to Trump, let's take a few minutes to remember the past when it comes to presidential politics. 

Because while these national polls are fun for a little conversation, they're absolutely, positively meaningless. 

But don't expect many in our media to treat them as gospel anyway.  

Joe Concha is a media reporter for The Hill and co-host of "WOR Tonight with Joe Concha and Lis Wiehl" weeknights on 710-WOR in New York. Follow Concha on Twitter @JoeConchaTV.