"Is it a revolt?" asked Louis XVI upon being informed of the storming of the Bastille. "No, sire," sighed his minister "I fear it is a revolution."
Indeed, in both parties, last night's Iowa caucuses proved that politics in the United States today is a revolution, not a revolt. Fortunately, while not a violent revolution a la France, it is every bit as serious for American politics and American life. Contrary to conventional wisdom, this election is not about ideology, issues, or items on a resume. This is an election of insurgency.
Since 2013 Armada has conducted a half a dozen surveys with American voters, both telephone and online, charting this phenomenon. Our most recent survey, conducted January 2-7, 2016 online of a large sample of 1,600 interviews was not done as a momentary glimpse or a snapshot of the primaries, but rather as a continuation of an in-depth study of the psychology of the American electorate. And it explains what we witnessed across Iowa, and what we are likely to witness as the primaries move forward.
Our mulit-year series of survey data of the "Smith Project" clearly indicates a new paradigm has emerged. It is a shift in political tectonic plates, the death rattle of the old order and the coming of the new political order. The old rules that reflected an establishment-centered, ideological two-party duopoly are now under siege by an anti-establishment, anti-political class, anti-duopoly movement that is nonpartisan and to a great degree even non-ideological. But this is no small revolutionary cadre; it includes the overwhelming majority of American voters of every persuasion. This is another in the great and lasting upheavals in our political history, and like all upheavals, it has its own unique qualities.
Based on research of political alienation among the American people growing to historic levels, in 2013 Patrick Caddell described publicly that the country was in a prerevolutionary moment. The upheaval and the explosion of discontent that have provided a launch-pad for outsider candidates from Donald Trump and Ted Cruz to Bernie Sanders are not, as so many establishment pundits suggest, just another episode in the long history of ad-hoc populist moments of discontent sure to fade away. Our survey data shows that the United States is in the midst of an evolving political revolution of historic proportions. In fact, this election could mark the beginning of the end of two-party duopoly in the United States. If you doubt that, read on.
(Because of the volume of data and information, we will be releasing on a periodic basis analysis of various components of the Smith poll. As this research reveals, these trends started years ago, but Iowa dramatized how real and right now this revolution is.
For each item below you may turn to the Appendix for the actual questions and results.)
Research Findings and Highlights:
1) As we've seen in our polling since 2013, Americans believe our country is in decline (this year, by a two-thirds majority). They believe our kids will not have it as good as we have had it (56% believe the future in the United States will be worse for most children); we may be the first generation of Americans to pass on a country that is worse, not better off - the abnegation of the American Dream. The people believe the U.S. has a two-track economy, where most Americans struggle every day, where good jobs are hard to find, and where huge corporations get all the rewards (72% agree). Three-fourths of Americans believe America is a unique nation and that we should protect our unique character (See Appendix 1).
2) They know why this decline is happening. Eighty-one percent believe the power of ordinary people to control our country is getting weaker every day as politicians of both parties fight to protect their own power and privilege (81% of all voters - across the board - believe this). Even more (84%) believe political leaders are more interested in protecting their power and privilege than doing what is right. In addition, three-quarters of the American people believe that powerful interests, from Wall Street to Unions to interest groups, have used campaign and lobbying money to rig the system for themselves. The reason families in our middle class have not seen their economic condition improve for decades and economic growth is stalled is because of corruption and crony capitalism in Washington (72% agree). The perception of widespread political corruption shades virtually every response in this poll. That's because the voters feel corruption taints every action and interaction in Washington. Two-thirds of Americans disagree that the US government is working for the people's best interest. Indeed, 71% believe our government is not only dysfunctional; it is collapsing right before our eyes. (On our 0-10 Issue Scales, for later release, "Government ethics and corruption" ranks among the three top scoring issues.) And 7 out of 10 Americans believe that the government in Washington does not govern with the consent of the people. The state of alienation in our country is unprecedented - in size and scope (See Appendix 2).
3) The Democratic and Republican Parties are essentially useless in changing this situation. Americans overwhelmingly agree (78%-15%) that both political parties are too beholden to special interests to create any meaningful change. This attitude may not be reversible with the current generation of voters. This is the situation that creates opportunity -- make that the necessity -- for new choices in our political system. Eighty percent believe the federal government is its own special interest primarily looking out for itself. So who's going to look out for us? That's what the people ask in this election.
We have all noted the continual rise of Independents in party affiliation such that it represents a commanding plurality of the American people. Today in America, almost eighty percent of the hard core independents say they do not vote a party line. And consider these two statements:
• Our party system is very flawed. We need new citizen leaders within our political parties, instead of the same old party machine politicians, to restore the ideals of our parties.
• Both parties have failed us and it's time to move on from our two party system. We need to vote for independent candidates and let some new political parties come together to truly represent the American people.
Altogether, 75% of all voters support these statements (38%, the first, and 37%, the second within the same question in our research). Indeed, only 15% say the "values and principals of my political party are so important that I strongly prefer to vote for the candidates of my party..." The voters are ready to move on from a party system that has failed the people and failed to measure up to the problems we face as a nation.
So the people believe the real struggle for America is not between Democrats and Republicans, but between mainstream America and the ruling political elites of incumbent politicians, lobbyists, big business, big unions, big banks, big special interests and the big media. That's right. Our free press is no help. In fact, they (74%) see the biased and slanted coverage of the media as part of the problem (See Appendix 3).
4) What can turn this situation around? Seventy-nine percent of all voters, all parties and all demographics say that we need to recruit and support more candidates for office, at all levels of government, who are ordinary citizens, rather than professional politicians and lawyers. And 56% say they wish there were a third party with a chance of success to fight for their interests. Think of that as the void between establishment Democratic and Republican politics and the change and reform the American people demand.
In 2013, sensing increased alienation and frustration with the status quo of politics in Washington, we tested a hypothetical "Candidate Smith" to explore whether there was latent support for an alternative approach in American politics. And there certainly was.
We didn't define Smith as Republican or Democrat, woman or man. We didn't define Smith's age, race or religion.
This is how we described Candidate Smith:
• "Candidate Smith's beliefs are not based on liberal or conservative ideas, just fundamental American common sense. Smith says we can't change anything with the usual politics, the usual politicians, and the usual interest groups. We need new leaders from mainstream America, like Candidate Smith, who take on the political elites and special interests, and put the American people in charge again."
While our poll shows that even the current leaders in the Democratic and Republican presidential primaries are perceived far more unfavorably than favorably, Smith's "favorable/unfavorable" numbers after reading that paragraph are a stunning 77% favorable and 11% unfavorable.
Without even knowing Candidate Smith, voters of all parties and demographics would choose Smith, running as an Independent, over Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. And Smith beats Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush, too.
And we also tested Candidate Smith in both primaries. In the Republican primary, Smith tops the field winning 34% of the vote, while frontrunner Donald Trump's support drops 10 points from 37 to 27. In early January in the Democratic primary Clinton was winning 59% to 39% over Sanders. When Smith was tested as a prospective Democrat, Clinton's lead dropped 20 points to 39 and Sanders dropped a dozen to 18 with Smith a very close second to Hillary at 35%.
As we will release later, it is important to note that not one of the Republican or Democratic candidates today is considered any more than "somewhat similar" to Smith. This defines the void between a "Smith candidate" and a Republican or Democratic candidate.
Of course, as relative outsiders and addressing the anger and frustration of the voters, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders capture some of the public mood. Indeed, many have said that Trump captures the "anger vote." If that were true, he would have over 80% of all votes and all voters. Among the current list of candidates, there is still a void. Yes, voters will dutifully make choices in the upcoming caucuses and primaries - but they yearn for better choices.
Consider the support for a few of Smith's positions:
• Smith says no one candidate can fix our system or our country alone. What we need is for ordinary Americans to stand up, take responsibility and take control. Eight-one percent of voters agree.
• Smith believes our economic policies of both parties have failed and we must grow the economy and provide real jobs and better wages for the middle class. Eighty percent agree.
• Smith says that America cannot succeed unless we take on and defeat the corruption and crony capitalism in our government. Seventy-six percent agree.
• Smith says we must fix our broken political system before we can go about solving the other important issues, like economic growth, education, national security or immigration. Two-thirds of all voters agree.
Candidates talk about a mandate to lead. Smith's favorability rises to 81% of all voters when they have learned about his platform. That mandate is spelled out very clearly by the people's support for a Candidate Smith's broad Platform of Reform and Rejuvenation. And that cry for change and reform will result in Candidate Smiths at every level of government sharing a broad common theme of common sense, common purpose, and common destiny (See Appendix 4).
5) The power elite asks, "When will this be over?" Although this is seen as a chaotic and temporary situation by most of the political and media establishment, our research shows a strong, evolving tidal wave of discontent and growing pressure for real and dramatic change.
The belief that politics works because voters ultimately will choose, even between just two candidates or between two parties, is illusory. Given nothing but those choices, make no mistake; most voters will make a choice. But that does not mean that their choice is an affirmation of what they desire. The question is this: will our next President have the real support of the American people?
Real change is what that the establishment fears most and fights hardest against. It is ultimately a losing battle. Given the establishment's inherent advantages of controlling structures, rules and resources, the full potential of change may not be realized in 2016. But it will continue. This, in fact, is a revolution.