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

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

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 BidenPoll: Support for Sanders among college students reaches highest level since April Obama has taken active interest in Biden's campaign: report The Hill's Morning Report — Trump and the new Israel-'squad' controversy 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 TrumpWarren unveils Native American policy plan Live-action 'Mulan' star spurs calls for boycott with support of Hong Kong police Don't let other countries unfairly tax America's most innovative companies 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 CarterTrump spends big in Texas, raising questions about whether he's worried Here's how senators can overcome their hyperpartisanship with judicial nominees A plea to progressive political pundits: Stop wringing your hands 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 KerryThe Memo: O'Rourke looks to hit reset button #FreeAustinTice trending on anniversary of kidnapping in Syria Warren faces lingering concerns about her ability to beat Trump 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 RomneyA US-UK free trade agreement can hold the Kremlin to account Ex-CIA chief worries campaigns falling short on cybersecurity Overnight Defense: US, Russia tensions grow over nuclear arms | Highlights from Esper's Asia trip | Trump strikes neutral tone on Hong Kong protests | General orders ethics review of special forces MORE overtook one-time frontrunner (in the polls) Herman CainHerman CainTrump says media is part of vetting his nominees: 'We save a lot of money that way' Trump withdraws Ratcliffe as Intelligence pick Trump puts hopes for Fed revolution on unconventional candidate 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 ClintonThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump and the new Israel-'squad' controversy Colorado candidates vying to take on Gardner warn Hickenlooper they won't back down Trump seeks to project confidence on economy at New Hampshire rally 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.