On Sept. 7, just days before the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the Museum of Tolerance (MOT) is set to host two political pollsters for an event the museum is calling “provocative.”
At the event, titled “9/11 + 10: Public Attitudes about Security Threats—Domestic and Global,” pollsters Pat Caddell and John McLaughlin are expected to release the results of a new national poll looking at American public opinion about security threats.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said that the MOT would be commemorating the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on Sunday, Sep. 11, in much the same way as in previous years—with public candle lighting and a reading of the names of the attack’s victims.
But Cooper said that on Wednesday, he hoped people would hear from “two articulate veterans” who would bring “objective data” to a discussion of how safe Americans think they are today.
“I’d really like to know how people feel ten years later,” Cooper, who helped organize the event, said.
The Wednesday evening event is being co-sponsored by Secure America Now, a political organization co-founded by Caddell and McLaughlin in the summer of 2010. The group, which claims to be nonpartisan, focuses much of its attention on opposing policies promoted by or associated with the Obama Administration.
In an interview with the Jewish Journal, McLaughlin said that what inspired him and Caddell to begin surveying Americans about national security was a sense that Americans don’t feel safe—and that citizens attribute their new vulnerability to the policies pursued by the current occupant of the White House.
“It’s really because of the kind of policies that the administration is advocating,” McLaughlin said, noting that the trend he has observed is a national one. “A lot of the surveys I’m seeing were conducted in different parts of the country. There’s definitely shifts in attitudes.”
McLaughlin’s polling firm currently counts House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R - Va.) among its clients. Caddell is a frequent guest on Fox News, where he is referred to as a Democratic Pollster, a title that bloggers for the progressive nonprofit Media Matters consider to be misleading.
Caddell, whose polling firm does not appear to have a website and who could not be reached for comment, was described as a “Democratic Pollster” on a flyer for the Sep. 7 event at the MOT.
The flier (pdf), which uses red and blue fonts and shapes, apparently to suggest that the event will feature differences of opinion, does not mention the two pollsters’ connection to Secure America Now or to one another.
Caddell and McLaughlin may have started out on opposite sides of the political divide—when McLaughlin volunteered for Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaign in 1976, Caddell was working as Jimmy Carter’s pollster—but Caddell has since become better known for his critiques of Democratic policies and candidates. In 2010, one writer suggested Caddell might be labeled a “self-loathing Democrat.”
Caddell and McLaughlin have given presentations about American public opinion on security matters before. In February, they presented results of an earlier Secure America Now-sponsored survey into public opinion on the subject to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). The pair also spoke at the Heritage Foundation in May as part of the conservative think tank’s “Protect America Month.”
When McLaughlin presented that survey’s findings to CPAC in February, he talked about the opportunity it offered to Obama’s opponents. Caddell and McLaughlin found that Americans disapproved of President Obama’s handling of foreign policy by 54 to 42 percent and disapproved of his work to defend and secure America by a similar margin.
When asked “Who or what is the GREATEST threat to the United States?” a full seven percent of respondents actually identified the president himself, who came in second only to “terrorism,” which was identified as the most pressing threat by 14 percent of respondents.
“When people don’t think we’re safe, that’s his glass jaw,” McLaughlin told the crowd at CPAC, referring to the president.
The poll presented at CPAC wasn’t the only poll Caddell and McLaughlin conducted this year under the Secure America Now banner that appeared to include good news for Obama’s opponents.
In June, Caddell and McLaughlin released a survey that concluded President Barack Obama was losing support among Jewish voters.
The survey was hotly contested. Adam Serwer, blogging for the Washington Post, called it “laughably bogus,” in part because certain questions asked in the poll were “phrased in as leading a manner as possible.”
Serwer pointed to one question that asserted that President Obama had “proposed for Israel…a return to the 1967 borders, dividing Jerusalem, and allowing the right of return for Palestinian Arabs to Israel,” and then asked respondents “how concerned [they] would be if [Obama] were re-elected.”
That question, McLaughlin said, drew on Obama’s Middle East policy speech in May at the State Department, in which the president put forward as a basis for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians borders “based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.”
As for the right of return and dividing Jerusalem, “He [Obama] put it on the table at the State Department speech, towards the end,” McLaughlin said. “He didn’t call it the right of return but he said it should be negotiated.”
“What’s surprisnig [sic] is that only 67 percent of Jewish voters in the poll said they were concerned about Obama’s policy towards Israel should he be reelected,” Serwer wrote in his Washington Post blog, “this, even though McLaughlin and Caddell invented out of thin air the idea that Obama supports a “right of return” for Palestinian Arabs.
Speaking to Commentary in July, McLaughlin acknowledged that particular question was based on a hypothetical—even as he defended the findings of the survey as a whole. “Whether the president supports those ideas or not, we’ll see,” McLaughlin said.
Although they are the co-founders of the group, no mention of Caddell, McLaughlin or any other individual appears on the Secure America Now website.
The “About” section of the Secure America Now website describes the organization’s backers as “Democrats, Republicans, Independents, conservatives and liberals who share a common concern about our security and liberty.”
But significant chunks of Secure America Now’s statement of purpose seem likely to appeal more to Republicans and conservatives than to Democrats and liberals.
“We have been frustrated by misguided government decisions to support a mosque at Ground Zero and to try terrorists in civilian courts while radical Muslims operate a training camp in New York State,” reads one line from the statement.
A CNN poll taken in Aug. 2010, when the controversy over the proposed Islamic Center near Ground Zero was at its height, showed that Democrats opposed the project by a small margin (54 to 43 percent) and liberals were narrowly in favor of it(51 to 45 percent). Contrast that with Republicans and conservatives, 82 and 87 percent of whom opposed the project, respectively.
The same partisan divide holds true for the issue of whether terror suspects should be tried in civilian court or by military tribunals. When Americans were asked in Feb. 2010 by Qunnipiac University where terror suspects should be tried, Democrats narrowly preferred civilian courts (48 to 45 percent), while Republicans and even independent voters were more likely to favor military trials for terror suspects (73 to 23 percent, 61 to 33 percent, respectively).
McLaughlin said that he and Caddell might differ on some issues, but they both agreed that “national security should be more bipartisan and not so much a partisan issue.”
Cooper said that he hoped to hear differing opinions on Wednesday.
“I imagine we’re going to get the full gamut of left to right and back and forth,” Cooper said, “and if that happens it’ll be a successful evening.”
And if those differing opinions don’t come from the people on the stage, Cooper said he would welcome them from the audience—but only during this particular “provocative” evening event.
“People can emote that night,” Cooper said. “On Sep. 11th, they should come and bow their heads in prayer.”