Famed pollster and political pundit Pat Caddell dies at 68

Patrick Caddell, a self-taught political pollster who was once described as “the living American with the most direct experience in presidential campaigns,” died Saturday in Charleston, SC. 

He was 68.

Political visionary

College of Charleston Professor Kendra Stewart, who worked with Caddell, confirmed his death in a statement to The New York Times. She said he died from complications from a stroke.

Caddell played an instrumental role in the election of President Jimmy Carter, but later became disillusioned with the Democrat Party and embraced conservatism as a Fox News contributor and Donald Trump campaign advisor. He used his polling expertise to found Cambridge Survey Research and Cambridge Reports, advising political and corporate clients from nuclear energy firms and the Saudi Arabian monarchy to the Carter administration.

Born in Rock Hill, SC in 1950, Patrick Hayward Caddell created his own “voter election model” while attending high school in Jacksonville, FL.

“Math was not my favorite subject,” he later admitted, but at 16 he created a polling algorithm in response to a mathematics assignment that would change his future forever. 

“I set up at the courthouse and called all the elections early with great abandon, with no idea what I was doing,” he said. “And they all turned out right.”

Democrat campaign veteran

Caddell strengthened his natural acumen for assessing public opinion by attending Harvard University, graduating in 1972 with a B.A. in political science. Soon, he was polling professionally for Democratic Sen. George S. McGovern’s presidential primary campaign.

McGovern lost to Richard Nixon in a landslide, but Caddell’s ability to translate polling data into sound political strategy caught the attention of other political actors. Recruited by the Carter campaign, Caddell has been credited with helping the Democrat defeat Alabama Gov. George C. Wallace in the Florida primary and subsequently guiding the campaign toward ultimate success.

“You know why Jimmy Carter is going to be president? Because of Pat Caddell — it’s all because of Pat Caddell,” predicted Carter campaign manager Hamilton Jordan in June 1976.

Power to the people

By the 1980s, Caddell abandoned the Democratic Party and began embracing conservative candidates. No matter whom he supported, however, Caddell railed against the political establishment and advised his clients that “a government is as good as its people.”

Scott Miller, a political analyst who worked closely with Caddell, told The Times in an email “the fact is, political calm made Pat very uneasy.”

“That calm means that the cement of the status quo is hardening, that the inevitable corruption of power is taking deeper root, that incumbent complacency is turning overripe on the vine,” Miller explained. “This drew him to the change leaders: to George McGovern, to Jimmy Carter, to Gary Hart, to Steve Jobs, to Ross Perot and eventually to Donald Trump.”

Caddell’s populist brand of politics eventually compelled him to work with the Trump campaign, which promised to upend the D.C. “swamp” and serve Americans who were disenfranchised by the last eight years of progressive policy.  During a March 2017 interview, Caddell told reporters that Trump’s election was “about disdain” with the political status quo. 

“Americans have decided to seize back their sovereignty,” Caddell said. “They are not going to be manipulated by their betters.”

Caddell is survived by his daughter, Heidi Caddell Eichelberger; his brother, Daniel; and his sister, Patricia Roberts. He had three grandchildren.

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