Most people think that Jimmy Carter mishandled the 1980 presidential election, failing to capitalize on his incumbency and the public's fear of Ronald Reagan, but Patrick H. Caddell '72, Carter's pollster and chief campaign consultant, insists that Carter forces waged the best presidential campaign since 1972.
"We were like the German army trying to take over Moscow without our over-coats. It was a miracle we made it to the suburbs," says Caddell, who came to the Kennedy School this week to speak to an Institute of Politics study group. "It was the perception of the people that there were lots of problems. It's tough to change that perception."
An Old Hand
Caddell should know about public perception. Now one of the top people in his field, he began polltaking as a high school student in Florida. Before Caddell finished his senior year at Harvard, he joined George McGovern's campaign for the 1972 Democratic presidential nomination as chief pollster.
Four years out of college, Caddell took on the same job for Democratic nominee Carter. Though in 1976 Carter fared much better than Caddell's previous boss. Caddell says there were serious problems with that campaign. "We ran it like a giant primary election. I would have felt really bad if we'd lost that one."
Carter maintained enough trust in him, however, to keep him on as one of the only major presidential advisers outside of his Georgia circle. As the Administration's public opinion expert. Caddell gave the President advice concerning several major policy issues, and some credit him with convincing Carter to call the famous Camp David summit in mid-1979.
The Tactics of Popularity
Critics have attacked Carter for relying too much on his pollster, but Caddell insists that he was consulted on public opinion only after the major decisions had been made. He says one can only use presidential decisions as "a tactical tool" after the policies have been set. "You can't pick which ones will make you popular," he adds.
At the suggestion that he wielded a great deal of power in the White House, Caddell responds with a chuckle. "My role was less than some worried when they imagined it, more than was deserved."