Pat Caddell was coming out of the Fox News exit poll meeting. Those polls showed Fox, CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS, MSNBC, CNBC, AP, Reuters, the NYTimes, Washington Post and most others exactly what they expected: they would be calling Hillary Clinton the winner of the election that night.
Pat called Bob Perkins and Scott Miller: “Don’t pay any attention to the exit polls. They’re stilted, and, as always, just focused on the horse race. When you look deeper, you see why this is breaking for Trump. It’s breaking just the way we thought it would.”
Yes, the horse race showed Hillary winning in the “swing” states. But looking at the voters’ attitudes in depth showed something else important. Voters’ attitudes were turning this into a referendum; the people versus the corrupt elites. We’d seen this building in our “WeNeedSmith.com” polls over five years, the latest just a couple of weeks before the election. Consider a few bullet points from that poll, showing the alienation, frustration and anger of an overwhelming number of all voters, of all parties, genders, demographics and belief systems:
- More than two thirds of voters (67.6%) said they believe America is on the wrong track. 62.9% believe the American way of life is changing for the worse, and 72.2% believe America is actually in decline.
- 83.7% believe that ordinary people are losing the power to influence our Government, and 80.4% believe people with money and position play by different rules than the rest of us.
- 87.3% of American voters feel politicians and other elites like lobbyists, big business, big banks, big unions and big media rig the system to protect their own power and prestige.
- 53.2% said they want big change in our government and economy. And the “old way” versus “radical change” loses by 77.8% to 18.7%.
These attitudes were held even more strongly among what we called the “double negatives:” voters who said they didn’t like either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, but would still likely vote. Looking closely you could see how they would decide on Election Day: by an almost two-to-one margin they said, “if Hillary wins, the elites win;” and by almost the same margin they said, “if Donald Trump wins, the elites lose.”
Looking closely is not what the big media or most campaign consultants were doing. They were looking at the horse race numbers, fielding polls to confirm their assumptions and biases and to protect their business. As it turns out, the polls were almost all irrelevant and wrong.
The polls, Big Data, the Ground Game and the ads and ads and ads and ads … didn’t work in this election. Hundreds of millions of dollars-worth of it all didn’t work.
One reason is that polling for professional politicians and the activist media has evolved over the past few election cycles not so much to learn from the people as to find out how best to market to (make that, “manipulate”) the voters.
The divisions we hear of among our citizens have been largely created and amplified by the political class to sharpen their campaigns, delight their funders and keep control of their system. What you see throughout our polling is a broad electorate united in its desire for change and reform.
Maybe that’s why the political ads were simply ignored. It was more of the same from past elections. From the time the Jeb Bush campaign began pouring millions into negative ads against Donald Trump, a steady march, then a parade and then a full stampede of negative ads crowded TV and the Web with little effect except to enrich the consultants who produced them.
We’re not saying that TV ads can’t work, but the dominant form of political ads hasn’t worked (which hasn’t stopped them). Telling people what to think doesn’t work. Convincing them works. Using other voters to get them into a conversation works. The American people, immersed in marketing all their lives, are sophisticated about its ways and means. They sense the difference between selling versus telling a compelling story. And they are not idiots.
We believe and the voters believe that we must recognize the need for a new class of leadership for American politics, business and civic life. Voters and consumer both tell the incumbents: “We want change. We want authenticity. We want to be heard.”
The next step in our work will include helping some political campaigns that emulate the “Smith” model (need a descriptor like- a model that elects representatives who really represent the people), and a project we call “Desperately Seeking Smith”, a quest to identify a new class of leadership for American politics, business and civic life. They may be outsiders or insiders, but they’re out there; young, old, Independents, Democrats, Republicans and Unaffiliated, every race and belief system. This is America, the land of possibility.
We want to find them, help them understand the perceptions and attitudes of the people they want to serve and support them as they begin to take the lead in a nation craving change.