By Courtney Kratz, Staff Writer
Peter Hart, one of the top public opinion analysts in the United States, spoke as part of the “Mood of America” CLP Wed., Feb. 10. Using insight from public policy and polling research, Hart addressed the political leanings of the American electorate and the 2016 presidential candidates.
Before speaking, Hart was introduced by Secretary Dick Riley, who lauded Hart for his nonpartisan practice despite his tendency to support moderate democrats. Citing Hart’s successes working with over 500 campaigns in his career, Riley described Hart as a master listener as well as researcher and strategist.
“I don’t think I ever would have been elected governor without Peter Hart and his strategic plan,” Riley said.
After Riley’s remarks, Hart began his talk by addressing the generational divide between voters.
“The younger generation is obviously showing the way in which we’re heading in America. Institutions that we’ve built up are falling to the wayside,” Hart said.
He then claimed that the one uniting factor between voters was political dissatisfaction. In particular, Hart presented a statistic that showed that three out of five Americans polled believe that America is on the wrong track. To Hart, this dissatisfaction and anxiety have further polarized the increasingly ideologically based campaigns of Trump and Sanders.
“This election has been about anger. Anger in terms of what’s happening in Washington, equity, income, people’s ability to move ahead and anxiety of what’s out there,” Hart said.
Hart also stated that to the electorate, candidate policy is merited less on specifics and more on direction. Polls show that many voters are focused on assurance and security. This sentiment combined with general dissatisfaction has led voters to report the desire of a candidate that can bring change rather than experience to office.
This is one reason, Hart argues, that Trump has such support. In light of the New Hampshire primary, Hart compared the change-driven natures of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump by saying, “They’re running exactly the same campaign. One is just more civilized than the other.”
Hart addressed Trump’s popularity by speaking about what the polls tend to demonstrate about the reasons for his success. Hart reasoned that Trump appeals to people because he is a total freelance candidate who breaks the rules of American politics. His approach to running is all slogans and no policy. Polls also show that Trump’s supporters describe him as “strong, outspoken, decisive, loud and even hotheaded.”
Despite his misgivings, Hart commented on the fact that Trump has a remarkable ability to stimulate and to encourage voter turnout.
“It is like going to the Daytona 500. We’re all waiting for that crash to happen, and we don’t want to miss it,” Hart said.
Hart continued by discussing Trump’s future challenges.
“As the field narrows, his difficulty is being able to get over the bar,” he said. “The fact of the matter is all other votes are divided. But if he were to be the nominee, I think he would have a large turnout in the fall.”
Hart also commented that the media is not just focused on Trump. The 2016 election has seen a significant amount of media attention constantly covering what candidates are saying. For pollsters like Hart, this extensive coverage often creates challenges when collecting data. News stories are frequently released that drastically affect how voters perceive candidates, which often causes discrepancies between poll data and current public opinion.
These challenges, Hart remarked, are especially applicable to Trump, who receives ample media coverage. Despite Trump’s controversial nature, however, Hart finds his slogan of “Make America Great Again” very indicative of the American psyche and desire to see change. Even as an experienced pollster, however, Hart was reluctant to make predictions about the coming election.
“So many things are going to happen, and indeed there is not an easy answer,” Hart said.
In particular, the 2016 election year thus far has seen a large record-breaking turnout. Hart was unsure whether this will be a unique phenomenon or a continuing trend in the political landscape, but he hopes to see it move forward. If it is a unique phenomenon, Hart postulated, it is because of both Trump’s celebrity personality and his feeling towards Hillary Clinton.
In the hopes of seeing a continued trend, Hart commented that it is a significant improvement to the abysmal voter turnout rates in the past, although 2008 and 2012 seemed to indicate a possible trend in increased voter participation.
In his closing question and answer session, Hart was asked whether there was hope for American voters.
“[There is] infinite hope,” he said. “If you’re in my business you gotta believe in people. I’ve spent my life believing in voters and watching them make some funny decisions. But I think they try to get America where they want it to be. The American public is something I believe in tremendously.”