'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 BidenBiden, Eastland and rejecting the cult of civility Inslee unveils plan to fight fossil fuel pollution Biden lays out immigration priorities, rips Trump for 'assault on dignity' 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 TrumpConway defends herself against Hatch Act allegations amid threat of subpoena How to defuse Gulf tensions and avoid war with Iran Trump says 'stubborn child' Fed 'blew it' by not cutting rates 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 CarterThe bottom dollar on recession, Trump's base, and his reelection prospects What polls and history tell us about Trump's reelection prospects 'Landslide' for Biden? A look at 40 years of inaccurate presidential polls 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 KerryWill we ever have another veteran as president? The Memo: Can Trump run as an outsider? The Hill's Morning Report - Trump's reelection message: Promises kept 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 RomneyThe Hill's Morning Report - Crunch time arrives for 2020 Dems with debates on deck Democratic challenger leads Tillis by 1 point in North Carolina poll The Memo: Can Trump run as an outsider? MORE overtook one-time frontrunner (in the polls) Herman CainHerman CainTrump says Shanahan out as Defense secretary nominee 'Landslide' for Biden? A look at 40 years of inaccurate presidential polls Another VPOTUS tries for POTUS: What does history tell us? 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 - Crunch time arrives for 2020 Dems with debates on deck The Memo: All eyes on faltering Biden ahead of first debate Trump says he's not prepared to lose in 2020 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.