Four years ago this week, hundreds of media outlets across the nation offered polls and analysis, forecasts and predictions, that all pointed to the same, inevitable conclusion: Donald Trump would never be president. The race then was Hillary Clinton’s to lose. Today, we are being fed the very same narrative from the very same media outlets, pollsters, prognosticators and pundits, all predicting a Joe Biden landslide.
In fact, the similarity between the overarching media narrative between 2016 and 2020 is actually starting to unnerve some people. It has become so uncanny that CNN, today, felt compelled to drop a video headlined “How Biden’s lead over Trump differs from Clinton’s in 2016.”
But they failed to make a strong case.
The video isn’t even an apples to apples comparison. It features an analyst comparing Trump’s 2016 election day performance in key swing states against what the 2020 polls are saying right now, three weeks before the 2020 election. Comparing actual voting data from election day four years ago with polling data today isn’t going to give Democrats a lot of comfort that “things are different” this time around:
So what were polls telling us four years ago at this point in the race? Trump did lead in Iowa, by just 3.7 percentage points, not the 9 percent CNN put on screen. Today, Biden is, in fact ahead in some Iowa polls, but as in 2016, the race remains as tight as ever.
In Ohio four years ago today, Trump trailed Hillary Clinton by 2 percentage points, not the +8 that CNN used on screen in an attempt to claim things are somehow different now. They are actually eerily similar. Here’s a series of headlines and links comparing recent headlines and polling, with similar news stories in mid-October 2016. It’s a timely reminder of how badly the news media, analysts and forecasters blew it in 2016, and how they are now feeding their audience the exact same content this cycle.
Does it mean Trump is going to pull another rabbit out of the electoral hat? Of course not. Nobody knows anything, and a deeper look at the headlines from then and now prove the point:
“SENIOR CITIZENS ARE BREAKING AGAINST TRUMP”
A week ago, the Financial Times published a piece claiming “fear” is driving senior citizens to vote for Joe Biden. The headline said it all: “They are afraid: Trump loses edge with Seniors in Florida.”
Over the weekend, the Associated Press ran a similar story claiming that, unlike 2016, this time senior citizens are really shifting big for Biden, complete with photos of a “Ridin’ with Biden” golf cart parade in The Villages in Central Florida. Judging from the story, it sounds like bad news for Trump. Are seniors really going to come out of the woodwork against Trump this time?
The Wall Street Journal ran a similar story on October 2nd, 2016, claiming that Hillary Clinton was making significant headway among seniors…
How about this one. Heard it before?
“TRUMP IS LOSING FLORIDA BECAUSE OF LATINO VOTERS”
Politico seems to bite on this bait every four years. A month ago, they published a Monmouth Poll showing Biden crushing Trump by 27 points among Latino voters, and claimed:
Monmouth’s poll shows Biden leading among Florida Latinos 58-32, roughly in line with Hillary Clinton’s 27-point margin in 2016, though she lost the state to Trump overall.
Four years ago, they published an almost identical story, except Hillary had an even larger lead than Biden holds now:
Another well worn trope tells us that Trump is doing so poorly across all fronts that now his GOP supporters are quaking in their boots (which is probably true, given the fact that Congressional Republicans always have the jitters when it comes to the media and Democrats and election day):
“REPUBLICANS ARE INCREASINGLY WORRIED THAT TRUMP COULD LOSE BIG”
Several news stories out this week all carry the same general theme:
Republican fears grow over rising Democrat tide -The Hill, October 7th, 2020
Trump’s task: Resetting campaign that GOP fears is slipping -Associated Press, October 12th, 2020
But similar stories appeared around the exact same time four years ago:
The New York Times did their part. Not once, but twice in a single week. First on October 5th, 2016:
They doubled down on October 11th, 2016, claiming that “Trump’s intensifying battle with his own party is tearing open the nation’s political map, pulling Republicans across the country into a self-destructive feud that could imperil dozens of lawmakers in Congress and potentially throw conservative-leaning states into Hillary Clinton’s column,” they wrote.
We’ve heard it all before. How about this one:
“TRUMP IS LOSING THE FEMALE VOTE”
There’s countless 2020 versions of this narrative out there in the Trump versus Biden race:
Trump can’t seem to win over women voters. It may cost him a second term. -Business Insider, October 9th, 2020
Lead among women fuels Biden’s 12-point edge –Politico, October 11th, 2020
The Pennsylvania women Trump has lost. –CNN, October 12th, 2020
None of these narratives are new. Trump has always done better with men than women. We were treated to the same story exactly four years ago today:
Donald Trump is facing an apocalyptic election scenario, thanks to women voters. -Washington Post, October 13th, 2016
So now we know that Donald Trump is losing the senior vote. He’s losing Latinos. He’s losing rank-and-file Republicans. He’s losing women. What more could he possibly lose?
“TRUMP IS LOSING IN FLORIDA”
Biden holds 11-point lead over Trump in Florida in new Quinnipiac poll – The Hill, October 7th, 2020
Biden has slight edge in Florida in NewsNation/Emerson College poll – WREG-TV, October 13th, 2020
Yet Trump was losing Florida exactly four years ago today…
Hillary Clinton has 6-point lead over Donald Trump in new Florida poll –Florida Politics, October 13th, 2016
“TRUMP IS LOSING MICHIGAN, HE’S LOSING WISCONSIN AND HE’S LOSING PENNSYLVANIA, TOO”
All key swing states. All slipping from Trump’s grasp:
Biden holds wide lead over Trump in Michigan, but Senate race narrows. – ABC 13 News, October 13th, 2020
Trump trailing in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin: poll – The Hill, October 11th, 2020
Polls said exactly the same thing in 2016, too:
Poll: Clinton widens Mich. lead as Trump support slides – The Detroit News, October 12th, 2016
Hillary Clinton widens Wisconsin lead over Donald Trump in latest Marquette poll – The Wisconsin State Journal, October 13th, 2016
Clinton up 10 points in Pennsylvania – Politico, October 4th, 2016
With so much bad news for Trump, it is understandable to conclude that Biden is a lock to win the White House in November. Biden’s path to electoral victory is virtually assured. Any rational analysis of current polling can only conclude that Biden’s chances are nearly insurmountable. Right now, on the Drudge Report:
And there’s so many similar stories, some by the same outlets on the same day:
Biden landslide creeps into view. – The Hill, October 13th, 2020
Carville predicts Biden will quickly be declared winner: ‘Not going to be close’ – The Hill, October 13th, 2020
91% chance of Biden victory. – The Economist, October 13, 2020
87% chance of Biden victory. – FiveThirtyEight.com, October 13, 2020
Here’s the same narrative from the Washington Post, October 18th, 2016:
Trump’s path to electoral college victory isn’t just narrow. It’s nonexistent.
It would be a mistake to call Trump’s current path to an electoral-college victory narrow. It is nonexistent. Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, once part of the Trump scenario, have never been “in play,” and he is not competitive in states Obama won only narrowly in 2012, such as Virginia and Colorado. Trump is more likely to lose North Carolina than win it, which would put him under 200 electoral votes.
The actual margin of victory in the electoral college? Donald Trump took 306 electoral votes to Hillary Clinton’s 232.
But they weren’t alone in making such a bold prediction:
Clinton heavily favored to win Electoral College: poll – Reuters, October 15, 2016
Trump victory all but impossible, based on previous races – CNBC, October 11, 2016
Swing state polls show Trump path to White House narrowing – CNN, October 14th, 2016
95% chance of Clinton victory – Reuters, October 10th, 2016
87% chance of Clinton victory – FiveThirtyEight.com, October 20, 2016
Again, none of this means Biden isn’t winning, or won’t on election day. It’s just a strong case that none of these polls and analysis presented as “news” have any real value in predicting the outcome three weeks from now, when so many things can – and will – happen.