With less than two weeks to go until election day, nationwide polls put Joe Biden between two and 11 points ahead of Donald Trump. Media outlets, many of whom have declared their support for the former vice president, are beginning to talk about a Biden presidency. The New York Times went further than most on Tuesday, declaring that “some Democrats can’t help whispering” about the incoming Biden “landslide.”
Presidential landslides are rare, and many Democrats are still hurting from their 2016 defeat. But polls favoring Joe Biden and new Republican doubts about President Trump’s chances have led some Democrats to contemplate not just a win, but a blowout. https://t.co/JMaaAw7TvP
— The New York Times (@nytimes) October 21, 2020
Where have we heard this before?
Four years ago, the predictions were similar. “The polls are split between Hillary Clinton winning and… Hillary Clinton winning in a landslide,” read a Vox headline on October 18, 2016. Forbes Magazine said Clinton would “trounce” Trump, while the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin forecasted “a tide of Hispanic and female voters” delivering the win for Clinton.
This week four years ago: pic.twitter.com/pYxUsGq5tI
— John Cardillo (@johncardillo) October 21, 2020
Clinton seemed a shoo-in, with the New York Times giving Trump only a 15 percent chance of victory as polls opened on November 8. In the months leading up to election day, Trump only eclipsed Clinton’s lead once, according to polling guru Nate Silver.
In fact, only a few pollsters, including the Trafalgar Group’s Robert Cahaly, correctly predicted Trump taking Pennsylvania, Michigan and Florida, and with them the presidency. This time around, Cahaly reckons Trump will outperform polling in Florida, Ohio, North Carolina and Georgia – states where Biden currently holds a razor-thin advantage.
To a casual observer, the signs point to a rerun of 2016, in which the experts learned nothing from their past mistakes, and Trump once again swoops to a “surprise” victory against a safe, establishment candidate. However, things aren’t that simple.
Predicting an election is a partisan affair, and has been compared to two rival sports teams operating their own manual scoreboards without seeing the game unfold before them. This time around, Democrats point to the raw figures of the polls, and to subtler tells, like Trump repeatedly campaigning in states he won comfortably in 2016. Coupled with bombshell stories of Trump’s party and allies preparing for a “bloodbath” at the polls, they paint a picture of a blue wave ready to wash away the aberration that was the Trump presidency.
Republicans counter that polling routinely oversamples Democrats, and that the GOP is outperforming the Democratic Party in registering new voters in key swing states. They say that enthusiasm for Trump is through the roof, with the president packing out rallies every day, while Biden struggles to draw more than a few dozen people to his socially distanced events.
— Michael Johns (@michaeljohns) October 13, 2020
While Democrats say that Trump’s campaigning in Pennsylvania indicates a drop in support there since 2016, Republicans argue that if Biden truly were leading in the state, he wouldn’t have to dispatch Barack Obama to Philadelphia to stump for him on Wednesday.
Divining the pre-election tea leaves is a dark art, especially in the chaotic final days of campaign season. Last-minute surprises – like Hunter Biden’s emails or Trump’s coronavirus diagnosis – can always tip the needle. Yet, more than anything, Trump’s supporters see the media’s prediction of a Biden victory as proof that the president will pull off another stunning upset, a view based as much on gut instinct as the 2016 experience.
Pollsters are going to be humiliated in a way that makes 2016 look like a "decent job."
— Amy (@MaybeAmes) October 20, 2020
Something big is happening.
Trump is being cheered like a rock star in Democrat lockdown states.
Can you feel it?
— thebradfordfile™ (@thebradfordfile) October 21, 2020
Seniors pulling a bait-and-switch on the Biden campaign, white working class coming out of the woodwork, crawling over 50 miles of broken glass to vote for Trump, conservatives who stayed home in 16 now on board, improved margins with Hispanics and Blacks.
Nobody can predict the result with absolute certainty, and anyone who claims to likely has a partisan agenda to sell. However, the more confident the assurances of the supposedly impartial media, the more crushing the defeat will be, should voters back Trump on November 3.
— Scott Wong (@scottwongDC) October 13, 2020
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