Patrick Caddell’s “The Real Election Surprise”

the-fortune-teller-1981On the eve of the 2016 presidential election, Democratic pollster Pat Caddell accurately foretold the outcome, 24 hours hence. In an essay published on the Fox News website on November 7, Caddell wrote that both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders were vessels for an upwelling of insurgent popular anger. Trump and Sanders were targeting an insulated political class “psychologically incapable” of grasping that almost everyone in America viewed them as the problem, not as the solution, to what ails us as a nation. With its depiction of hapless, doomed punditry, I am mindful of the spider dangling above the fiery precipice in the Jonathan Edwards sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.

I greatly respect, and am somewhat in awe of, Caddell’s Nostrodamus-like prescience. He is truly “a Nate Silver for our times” (with apologies, of course, to Nate Silver, who has suddenly and quite unexpectedly become “so yesterday”). But also have to say that I liked this essay less on my second and third readings. As you’ll see, the prose itself is pretty hideous. And Caddell is surely wrong, or at least only superficially correct,  in many of his assertions. Despite these challenges, he still nailed the election outcome, and so deserves credit for peering more deeply into our dark pool of hopes and fears than any other political analyst.

And so, without further ado….

Patrick Caddell: The Real Election Surprise? The Uprising of the American People (11/7/2016)

For more than two years the American people, in a great majority, from left to right, have been in revolt against the political class and the financial elites in America. It is a revolt with historic parallels, most closely resembling the Jacksonian revolution of the 1820s. It is an uprising. It is a peaceful uprising of a people who see a country in decline and see nothing but failure in the performance of their leadership institutions. And they have signaled their intent to take back their country and to reclaim their sovereignty.

This strikes me as an overly superficial, simplistic, and reductive analysis. For several reasons. First, the left=>right spectrum is increasingly useless as a way to think about contemporary politics, probably to a greater extent than any time since the 1930s, when the last “populist” upheaval cleaved the West. Having said that, there is no doubt an insulated “political class” and “financial elite” do exist, and that an inchoate, incoherent gathering storm of popular anger has now burst upon them. The Jacksonian “revolution” analogies probably do exist to the degree New England puritan/patrician and Middle Atlantic financial elites reaped the whirlwind of a press-inspired uprising channeled by Andrew Jackson. Caddell probably understates (dramatically) stating the divisions within this insurgent class, which (both in the Jacksonian period and now) has only unified in their hatred and scorn of the elite classes, and which lacks any coherent organization or program. Jackson harvested political malcontents organizationally (as now, across Southern and Western geographic spaces), and we should note, as well the incitements related to efforts to consolidate slave-owning agricultural interests and to remove “alien” populations (Indian removal, etc.), which were as or more important as opposition to the Hamiltonian national finance regime. I have no idea what Caddell means by the intent of disillusioned citizens in 2016 “to take back their country and to reclaim their sovereignty.” I guess we would first need to define “their”, which we may infer means the less-educated and white and male segments of the population. But this is of course not close to being a “great majority.” We should not forget Hillary Clinton received millions more votes than Donald Trump. Were thin slices of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania to have gone for Hillary, even a fraction of those who voted for Obama in 2012, we would not be having the same conversation (even if it were warranted).

Unfortunately, the analysts, the pollsters and most importantly the commentariat of the political class have never understood, and in fact are psychologically incapable of understanding what is happening. And for the entire cycle of this presidential campaign they have failed to grasp what was happening before their eyes – for it runs counter to everything they believe about themselves.

In truth, they are suffering from cognitive dissonance  believing in their righteous superiority and are not capable of realizing that it is they who have become the adversary of the American people. And therefore they have been wrong, in this entire election cycle, every step of the way.

I agree the “the commentariat of the political class … are psychologically incapable of understanding what is happening.” Media elites are spinning right now because the election has, traumatically, exposed the emptiness of the education, training, professional standards, experience, skills, and technologies that justify and burnish their identities as journalists and pundits. Far more than for Iraq, this political year has been for us a season of shock and awe. The psychological adjustment of the “mainstream media”, which is also a business adjustment, will take months. Or years. Or forever.

For them, American politics only began yesterday. They know little history and have no appreciation of the collective consciousness of the American people.

These are , odd (and perhaps meaningless) statements. The “commentariat” probably “knows” enough history. The question is how one interprets and applies the lessons of history. Most journalists and pundits would not have disputed the Jacksonian or 1930s “populist” analogies. I’m not sure what Caddell means by the “collective consciousness” of the American people, and how it differs from the “collective consciousness” of national peoples in Europe who have roiled the political landscape.

Whether it is the campaign of Bernie Sanders, who came within a hair’s breadth of knocking out the coronated nominee of the Democratic establishment or on the other side, the emergence of the total outsider Donald Trump, the most improbable candidate of all. In truth, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, sucked from the same trough even if it was from opposite ends. But the critical point that is missed, by almost everyone, was that neither Sanders nor Trump created this uprising. They were chosen vehicles – they did not create these movements, these movements created them.

This latter “critical” point is surely correct, and this concept of the “chosen vehicle” matters enormously

In less than a day we will know how far this revolt has come. But, make no mistake, whatever the outcome, this revolt is not ending, it is merely beginning.

Several years ago, I began, with my colleagues at Armada, an ongoing, in-depth research project on what has become known as the “Candidate Smith” project. A good friend of mine, Lee Hanley, who sadly just passed away, volunteered to begin this project with only one charge: that we explore my hypothesis that something profound was happening in the collective consciousness of the American people.

I really wish Caddell was a better writer. His insights deserve more precise and cogent explanation. I still have no idea what it means that “something profound was happening in the collective consciousness of the American people.”

What we learned in our in-depth research was as astonishing as it was unexpected. It became clear from this really deep public opinion inquiry that American politics has entered an historic paradigm. What is emerging in what had been assumed to be the static political system was about to be reconfigured in ways and that we still do not know fully. But one thing is certain: the old rules of politics are collapsing and a new edifice is emerging.

Again, clumsy language. But Caddell’s point about the collapse of the “old rules of politics” is surely correct. Trump thumbed his nose at the rules. He didn’t casually disregard them. He obliterated them. And the reaction of the media was largely confusion, with the fallback “safe” position that of course Trump could never get away with breaking the rules. Not appreciating that the rule-breaking was at the center of his charm for many Americans. And leaving aside for the moment the exhilarating and terrifying challenge of living in a new world in which there are actually no rules. A world in which anything is possible because nothing is forbidden.

The conventional wisdom that America is absolutely divided into warring tribes is a tired falsehood. Overall, in the attitude structure of the American people, the elements of this new paradigm are commonly shared by upwards of 80 percent of the population – from the Occupy Wall Street movement on the left to the Tea Parties on the right. The political battleground is no longer over ideology but instead is all about insurgency.

Yes and no. Despite some similarity, the emotional foundations and political / policy implications of the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements (and  by extension of the Trump and Sanders insurgencies) are quite different. Occupy (and, to some extent, the Green movement, e.g., Naomi Klein) has been a class-based economic protest. The Tea Party has been more of an ethnic / nationalist insurgency supported by business and political elites determined to blow up the entire New Deal / Great Society political edifice. So yeah, both groups can get behind suspicion of NSA snooping and favor solar panels as aggregates of a general hatred of the financially-engineered security state. And Julian Assange, Edmund Snowden, and Glenn Breenbert, et. al. can engage the ballistics of governmental fear and loathing through tactically delivered document disclosures. But documentarian Steve Bannon’s overt contempt for the Occupy Wall Street movement and infatuation with Sarah Palin tells us pretty everything we need to know about the deep fractures and chaotic lava flows within these movements of “the people”. The problem we face is a nation is that we are both divided into warring tribes AND simultaneously at war with the “governing class”.  

The larger atmosphere is dominated by three overriding beliefs:

First, the American people believe that the country is not only on the wrong track but almost 70 percent say that America is in actual decline. The concept of decline is antithetical to the American experience.

Second, for more than three centuries, the animating moral obligation of America has been the self-imposed obligation that each generation passes on to its children a better America than they themselves inherited. This is what makes us Americans. In Armada’s polling we found that a majority of Americans believe that they are better off than their parents were. But a great majority says that THEIR children will be worse off than they themselves are today. This is the crisis of the American Dream. And it is no surprise that a majority of Americans agree that if we leave the next generation “worse off” that there will still be a place called “the United States” but there will no longer be an “America.”

Numbers the First and the Second seem pretty identical to me. As a nation, we have experienced many cycles of economic decline and political strife. Caddell’s interpretations of American discontent are a bit too loosey-goosey, for me at least. The terms “wrong track”, “decline”, and “American Dream” are often used as filler for meaningful analysis. For example, white Americans are far more pessimistic about the future of America than minorities and immigrants (who presumably are excited about “getting the job done”). And this pessimism of white Americans presumably emerges from their specific sense of what America “means”, and their anxiety about the loss of control over that meaning.

Third, when asked whether or not everyone in America plays by the same rules to get ahead or are there different rules for well-connected and people with money, a staggering 84 percent of voters picked the latter. Only 10 percent believed that everyone has an equal opportunity.

Yes. And this third point is absolutely more salient (and certainly more specific) than the first two points about decline and the meaning of America.  What the Occupy / Green / Tea Party insurgencies all share is righteous rage about the lack of fairness in American society. The issue of fairness overrides all other issues, at least in the sense of providing a clear and simple template for corrective action. Although of course no one can escape the irony that this righteous anger has elevated to power a man who has perhaps benefited more than anyone from the divergent sets of rules available to wealthy and privileged Americans and ordinary Americans. We also cannot forget the degree to which Tea Party enthusiasts who have harried Trump into office believe ordinary Americans who are not white have also gamed the system at the behest of “liberal” elites who depend on these racial groups for political support. So in a real sense, we are experiencing a profound crisis of “liberalism” (with all the layers and shades of meaning that term implies).

These over-arching attitudes provide the framework for today’s political revolt.

Unfortunately, I suspect, if you asked these questions of the political, financial and media elite they would have a very different response.

From the time I was a teenager and a self-starting pollster I have had an acute interest in the phenomenon of political alienation.  In our research, the current level of alienation that now grips the American electorate is staggering and unprecedented.

Here are some of our latest results among likely voters from early October 2016:

1.  The power of ordinary people to control our country is getting weaker every day, as political leaders on both sides, fight to protect their own power and privilege, at the expense of the nation’s well-being. We need to restore what we really believe in – real democracy by the people and real free-enterprise. AGREE = 87%; DISAGREE = 10%

2.  The country is run by an alliance of incumbent politicians, media pundits, lobbyists and other powerful money interests for their own gain at the expense of the American people. AGREE = 87%; DISAGREE = 10%

3.  Most politicians really care about people like me. AGREE = 25%; DISAGREE = 69%

4.  Powerful interests from Wall Street banks to corporations, unions and political interest groups have used campaign and lobbying money to rig the system for them. They are looting the national treasury of billions of dollars at the expense of every man, woman and child. AGREE = 81%; DISAGREE = 13%

5.  The U.S. has a two-track economy where most Americans struggle every day, where good jobs are hard to find, where huge corporations get all the rewards. We need fundamental changes to fix the inequity in our economic system. AGREE = 81%; DISAGREE = 15%

6.  Political leaders are more interested in protecting their power and privilege than doing what is right for the American people. AGREE = 86%; DISAGREE = 11%

7.  The two main political parties are too beholden to special and corporate interest to create any meaningful change. AGREE = 76%; DISAGREE = 19%

8.  The real struggle for America is not between Democrats and Republicans but between mainstream American and the ruling political elites. AGREE = 67%; DISAGREE = 24%

These numbers and many, many more from our research paint the true outlines of the emerging political paradigm and the insurgency that it has ignited. In fact, it is the last question above that is agreed to by “only two-thirds” of the American people. Despite everything we are told day and night – that political battle in America is between Democrats and Republicans – two thirds of the American people believe that the battle lines are drawn between mainstream America and its ruling Political Class. THIS is the battle of 2016 and beyond.

These are findings that the reader has likely never been told. For they reflect the legitimate dissent of the American people from the actions and leadership of their establishment institutions. This is something the political class and mainstream media refuse to recognize much less acknowledge.

Befitting the emerging new paradigm, 2016 has already been an election like none we have ever known. But it is not without some parallels to another election.

In 1980, America was gripped with a foreign policy crisis, there hostages being held in Iran, inflation was exploding and the electorate was very unhappy. The country had two candidates for president: the incumbent – President Jimmy Carter and Republican challenger Ronald Reagan. For the first time in polling history both candidates, Carter and Reagan, were viewed negatively by the American people — although their negatives were nowhere near the level of Clinton and Trump’s unpopularity. While the shock of Vietnam and Watergate had helped propel an unknown peanut farmer to the presidency, there was nowhere near the level of alienation and discontent that now grips America.

I was Jimmy Carter’s pollster and strategist in 1980 and I know, more than anyone, about what really happened. The entire Carter campaign was premised on painting the controversial Ronald Reagan as too risky to be president and too dangerous to entrust with nuclear weapons.

Exactly a week before Election Day there was a fatal presidential debate (that I wanted to avert) which gave Ronald Reagan his chance to make his case. It shook up the election.

Ironically, despite bizarre, if not pathetic, performances, the debates did not hurt Trump. In fact, his ability to simply survive and endure them may have helped his electoral prospects. Clinton’s campaign staff and most of the media “commentariat” made the tactical mistake of focusing on personal character and temperament issues. But apparently pretty much no one among the electorate cared about that stuff. They didn’t care about the stupid things Trump said. And this tells us a lot about the language divide in America, and the political challenges that exist when language is privileged over action and energy. Caddell’s insurgents were not going to let somewhat disingenuous and manufactured gasps of horror about the the locker room talk of the Orange-Haired Horror Clown dissuade them. Those gasps of horror are the reason they are voting for Trump in the first place!

The coalescing of voters around Carter began to break down. Within a couple of days Reagan had established a small lead over President Carter.

On the Saturday before the election the race had rebounded into a tie or slight Carter lead. And then it all fell apart.

My polling for the campaign told the story. By Sunday night President Carter was 5 points down and by Monday night the margin had exploded to 10 points down.

This disintegration of support for Carter is a fascinating illustration of the thin ice on which candidates can travel in their relations to the electorate, especially incumbents. The psychology of the electorate’s relation to the president is complex, if not profound, and candidates for the presidency who fail to appreciate the extent to which they embody the hopes and dreams of the American people, or who lack the personal skills to fully embrace and articulate those hopes and dreams (as might a strong and confident parent) are weakly positioned.

The uniqueness of 1980 is this: In the history of American polling this was the only presidential election that entered the last weekend close and finished in a landslide. The only one.

The question on the table now is: could 2016 be the second such election? If it is, it won’t be for Hillary Clinton.

The political class and the mainstream media have a narrative that Trump’s late surge is the result of an intervention by FBI Director James Comey. That narrative, like every one they’ve had over this cycle, couldn’t be more wrong. The momentum of the election was already moving toward Trump before Comey’s announcement to reopen of the Clinton email investigation. That event, like the presidential debate in 1980, tended to accelerate what was already in motion.

I get this larger point about not letting Comey’s actions distract us from the legitimate causes of the Clinton campaign collapse. That said, from a raw numbers standpoint, Comey probably did cost her the election. At this point, I imagine even Caddell would agree.

No two elections are really the same, whatever similarities they share. And neither are 1980 and 2016.

Here are a couple of differences – In 1980 there was no early voting. Without thinking through the consequences, this reform has resulted in millions of ballots being cast long before the campaign culminates. And that is almost surely an edge for Hillary Clinton and the better organized Democratic Party.

While both elections in 1980 and 2016 feature an American public that attitudinally wants real change there are differences that have already been noted: Many polls show that by just about 2 to 1 voters do not want to continue the policies of President Obama. In 1980 disapproval of Carter’s job performance did not extend to the personal feelings Americans had for Carter and the deep respect they had for his integrity.  (And of course, in both elections, Americans saw the country headed in the wrong direction.)

Not sure what Caddell means here. Again, the fuzzy language. Obama’s personal popularity is buoyant, although of course he is reviled by many of the most intensely committed Trump supporters of the Breitbart ilk. Which policies the voters do not want to continue, by a margin of 2 to 1, remains less clear. So I can’t tell if Caddell is saying the electorate were similar in respecting Obama and Carter personally, but not liking his policies, or if he is somehow differentiating Carter from Obama.

As suggested before, the alienation and discontent of the American electorate is way beyond that of 1980.

If this is true, how could Clinton win the popular vote, while Reagan defeated Carter in a landslide? Again, Caddell deserves great credit for making these points on the eve of the election, but the outcome of the election itself is far murkier as a way to pass definitive judgment on the alienation of the American electorate, and what that actually means if it truly does exist (which I believe it does).

In 1980 the mainstream media was far more even-handed in its coverage and prided itself on journalism and not partisanship.

I’m really not sure about this. Would like to see some evidence. In reality, the news creation and distribution institutions had changed so much by 2016 from 1980 that comparisons about even-handedness (and judgments about whether being even-handed is even relevant anymore), are super difficult to address.

As I look at some of the deeper polling results, the questions I have been able to inject into the Breitbart/Gravis polling questions of recent days, may be in the end, instructive. As with Jimmy Carter in 1980, Hillary Clinton is far more likely to be viewed as qualified to be president and possessing a better presidential temperament.

But the results of the latest poll are worth pondering: Here are the most interesting questions and answers.   First, voters were asked to agree or disagree with following question:

For years, the political elites have governed America for their own benefit and to the detriment of the American people – this election is the best chance in our lives to take back our government. AGREE = 63% (with 46% strongly agreeing); DISAGREE = 31%

Voters were then asked the same two questions of each candidate: Which is closer to your opinion if (Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump) wins: the political elites and special interests win; the political elite and special interests lose.

By 65 percent to 35 percent voters said that if Hillary Clinton wins the political elites WIN.  And by an opposite margin, the majority of voters said that by 57 percent to 43 percent the elites LOSE if Trump wins.

Caddell is obviously an experienced pollster, and I know nothing about polling, but these are leading questions that pretty much answer themselves. Which makes them kind of worthless. I could imagine different phrasing would have yielded vastly different outcomes. And I still really don’t know what it means to “take back our government.”

Significant numbers of Clinton’s own voters believe that her win is a victory for the unpopular elites and special political interests.

This admission by Clinton supporters is hugely revealing. No one was excited about a Clinton presidency. Some of this may have been due directly to ambivalence about Clinton, but more of it may have emerged from the general frustration with gridlock and the success of the 8-year middle finger raised to Obama by the Republican Tea Party Congress. Indeed, this particular moment in our history may be sui generis to the degree they represent a convergence of mad dog populism and well-funded, highly skilled, subterranean political gamesmanship dating back to the Reagan years. Although personally, I believe we face a Constitutional crisis of a severity not seen since the years leading up to the American Civil War. Which if, of course not encouraging. So I hope that I am wrong.

So the question is, if these attitudes are salient in the voters’ minds as they vote on Tuesday it could produce the biggest surprise of all in 2016.

But regardless of who wins on November 8 this uprising of the American people has just begun.

Patrick Caddell is a Democratic pollster and Fox News contributor. He served as pollster for  President Jimmy Carter, Gary Hart, Joe Biden and others. He is a Fox News political analyst and co-host of “Political Insiders” Sundays on Fox News Channel.

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