With Election Day in the rear-view mirror, you may be feeling deflated, elated, or left in limbo. Part of the chaos surrounding the whole process can be traced to the polling that was wildly off and now seems more than ever to have been used to try to sway public opinion rather than measure it. Since 2016, we've been tracking the media's Big Miss, the implications, and the pledges to self-correct. But we found in 2020: they failed.
Sharyl Attkisson: Democrat Joe Biden began the night with an eight point lead in national polls over Donald Trump, the largest of any candidate on the eve of an election since Bill Clinton in 1996, according to the polling group 538.
But after the media’s Big Miss in 2016, America’s trust in the predictive system was so shaken, a new avocation has emerged, measuring the odds that the odds are wrong.
Nate Silver: "There could be a 2016 style polling error and Biden would still win that election, there could be an even bigger polling error than in 2016 and then Biden might not win that election."
The crisis in confidence when it comes to polling and pundits was never clearer than when Donald Trump first entered the picture in 2015.
Donald Trump: I am officially running for President of the United States.
Mara Liasson: I think this is Donald Trump's biggest day. And he will be ignored from henceforth. Actually, I hope he will.
Keith Ellison: And we better be ready for the fact that he might be leading the Republican ticket.
George Stephanopoulos: I know you don't believe that. But I want to go on.
Barack Obama: I continue to believe Mr. Trump will not be president.
In 2016, going into election night, 538 showed Hillary Clinton with a 71 percent chance of winning. Donald Trump? Just 28%.
Nearly all pollsters and analysts were in lockstep with the narrative that Trump had no path to victory.
Larry Sabato: We were wrong, ok? The entire punditry industry, the entire polling industry, the entire analyst industry and I want to use this opportunity to take my fair share of the blame, we were wrong.
In the hangover and recovery after the big miss, the media promised to self-reflect and correct.
Then, it happened again.
Chris Cuomo: It’s going to be a very slim mandate delivered to anybody who won.
Early on in election night 2020, even with the final tally still outstanding, one result was clear. Major polls and pundits once again proved not to be believed.
Tammy Bruce: “The polls were extraordinarily wrong”
The first forecast that fell apart was a Democrat-blue wave.
Chris Cillizza: You begin to see the makings of a Democratic landslide if the political environment remains roughly the same in November as it is today.
Kristin Myers: We keep talking about this blue wave. And it seems as if markets have baked in a Biden victory. We have seen in various betting markets that the likelihood of both a Biden win and Democrats taking the Senate has increased materially.
According to RealClearPolitics, the NYT/Siena College poll, rated an A+ pollster by 538, overestimated Biden's support by:
About 4 in North Carolina
9 in Ohio
6 in Florida
And 10 in Wisconsin and Iowa
Quinnipiac and many others put Florida in Biden’s win column.
CBS Miami: Democratic nominee Joe Biden has widened his lead over President Trump here in the Sunshine State. Biden 51% Trump 40%.
WJAX: Former Vice President Joe Biden is leading the president among likely Florida voters. 51% say they intend to vote for Joe Biden. 45% report they will vote for President Donald Trump.
In fact, Trump not only didn’t lose Florida, he tripled his lead over Clinton.
Trump also won Ohio against Quinnipiac’s predictions.
There was even serious talk of Biden turning the reliably red state of Texas blue
but Trump won by almost 8 points.
As for the electoral map count, many of those projections were blown out of the water election night, too.
In mid-October, CNN saw a Biden landslide, with Trump getting only 170 electoral votes out of 270 needed to win.
An even worse electoral picture for Trump came from multiple polling groups including 538, and combined ratings from Cook Political Report, Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales and Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia. They forecast Trump would get no more than 125 electoral votes, leaving Biden with a landslide victory up to 413.
But the day after the election, Trump already had racked up 213 electoral votes and it was clear the landslide scenario was off the table.
Then, there were the many predictions that Democrats would wrest the majority in the Senate away from Republicans.
Mike Murphy: So I know there are a lot of nervous Republican Senators who wish they had a time machine to go back 18 months and get a little independence from Donald Trump.
But Republicans held on to the Senate.
The analysts were right on one big count: the election wasn’t decided on election night. In a way, that was by design with so many rule changes and late counts.
Joe Biden: We feel good about where we are. We really do
Donald Trump: This is an embarrassment to our country. We were getting ready to win this election. Frankly, we did win this election. We did win this election.
The chaos harkens back to the 2000 race between Democrat Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush. First, the networks called Florida for Gore. Then the call was switched to Bush.
Tom Brokaw: It would be something if the networks managed to blow it twice in one night.
Gore conceded. Then, he took it back.
Claire Shipman: He has actually called George W. Bush and taken back his concession phone call.
Dan Rather: If the kids haven’t gone to sleep, get them in the room because people are going to be talking about this Presidential race for a long time to come.
With just 537 votes separating the two candidates, in came the lawyers.
Amid recounts and accusations of fraud, America became familiar with the term “hanging chads,” referring to the dubious punch-card ballots with hanging or deformed fragments of paper punched out. It took three weeks for Florida to declare Bush the winner of 25 electoral votes and thus, the presidency.
Katie Couric: Now it can be said: President-elect Bush.
Sharyl (on camera): As 2020 continues to be sorted out, with polls and pundits this wrong two presidential elections in a row, the system may require a major overhaul if the players hope to gain back any meaningful relevance among the general public in the near future.