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POLLSTER UPDATE: Barack Obama's 'Big Data' Experts Team Up With Google's Eric Schmidt

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BARACK OBAMA BIG DATA
President Barack Obama speaks during a fundraiser in Chicago, Wednesday, May 29, 2013. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) | AP

The Obama data "Cave" incorporates with Google's Eric Schmidt as a backer. Quinnipiac finds it's still the economy, stupid. And speaking of the "big data" revolution, this daily update is now available VIA EMAIL! Details below. This is the HuffPost Pollster update for Thursday, May 30, 2013.

OBAMA'S 'BIG DATA BRAINS' INCORPORATE - Businessweek's Josh Green broke the news Thursday morning: The core analytics team from President Barack Obama's reelection campaign, led by 30-year-old Dan Wagner, is forming a new consulting company with financial backing from Google's executive chairman, Eric Schmidt. "The plan is to bring the same Big Data expertise that guided the most expensive presidential campaign in history to companies and nonprofits. 'The model of innovation in technology are these very young teams that have a brand-new idea, like each other, and work incredibly hard,' says Schmidt. 'Venture capitalists are competing all over for these people. When you find them, you figure out what they want to do and you back them.'" The new company, Civis Analytics, will be based in Chicago with an office in Washington. According to the Businessweek report, it will "focus primarily on companies," as well as non-profits, but "won’t be abandoning politics altogether. Wagner expects the company to work for Democratic candidates—and only Democrats—next year." [Businessweek]

Schmidt's role - Green reports that Google's Schmidt was "an underappreciated asset" of the Obama campaign who "helped recruit talent, choose technology, and coach the campaign manager, Jim Messina, on the finer points of leading a large organization." He spent election night in the Obama boiler room, and "had a particular affinity for a group of engineers and statisticians tucked away beneath a disco ball in a darkened corner of the office known as 'the Cave." Now, Wagner explained, "the Cave is incorporating" with Schmidt's help. [ibid]

Not about Google - In an interview with the Huffington Post on Thursday, Wagner explained that Google itself is not a backer and has no ties to their new company. "This is something that Eric did personally," Wagner explained. "It really wasn't his affiliation with Google that brought him to us, it was really just his kind of personal affinity for the work that we had done and the relationship that we built with him. So he made this decision completely on his own using his own resources."

Not just Obama quants -- A company web site lists a staff of 22, drawn mostly from the 2012 Obama campaign analytics team, but with some prominent exceptions: Mashiko Aida, who previously served as chief data scientist for the Democratic polling Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, Matt Lackey, who directed analytics for the AFL-CIO since 2009, and CFO Alan Fu who managed investments for the U.S. Department of Treasury, including the General Motors bankruptcy, restructuring, and I.P.O. [Civis Analytics]

What's different - "For all its acclaim," Green explained, the main work of Wagner's team in the Obama campaign is "often misunderstood as 'microtargeting' or some variant on wooing voters." While campaign research and targeting is typically "top-down," the approach of Wagner's team was more "bottom up." In the context of measuring voter preferences, for example, campaign pollsters draw random samples, often from lists of registered voters, and attempt to interview those sampled by telephone. The Obama analytics team made hundreds of thousands of survey calls to voters, but for the purpose of developing statistical models to enhance their data for all voters. Their most critical analysis focused on counting the characteristics of all voters, not just those sampled and interviewed. How will this practice adapt beyond politics? "Companies, like campaigns, are sitting in this big data revolution," Wagner explained to The Huffington Post. "They have lots of A [or] B choices to make and they have to make them every day. And if they make them well, the companies will do well."

POLLSTER UPDATE VIA EMAIL! - We're pleased to announce that starting today, you can sign up to received this daily update via email. Just enter your email address in the box in our upper right corner of this page and click "sign up" (if you're not seeing the option, try clicking here first). That's all there is to it (and you can unsubscribe anytime). The Pollster Updates will continue to publish online, but if you'd prefer the convenience of email, it's just one click away.

IRS SEEN AS BIGGEST CONTROVERSY, BUT ECONOMY REMAINS TOP PRIORITY - Quinnipiac finds Obama’s rating underwater, down from earlier this month: “Of the three controversies, 44 percent of voters see the IRS probe as the most important, with 24 percent citing Benghazi and 15 percent picking the AP records seizure. But voters say 73 - 22 percent that dealing with the economy and unemployment is a higher priority than investigating these three issues. ‘The fact that voters say 34 - 25 percent that the economy is getting better also may be a reason the president's job approval numbers have not dropped further,’ [Quinnipiac’s Peter Brown said].”
[Quinnipiac]

Is Obama’s job approval taking a delayed hit? - GOP pollster Neil Newhouse: “The downward forces of the triple-threat scandals hitting the Obama Administration seem to have finally taken a toll on President Obama’s job approval scores. And, it’s impacting the very voters you’d think it would – Independents...President Obama receives his lowest scores ever in Q polling on the attribute of being “honest and trustworthy.” For the first time less than a majority of voters (49%) believe that describes him.” [Public Opinion Strategies]

More to Q-poll than 'tossing another number into the approval averages?' - Political scientist Jonathan Bernstein says no: "The polling that really tells us something about voters and the scandals so far is already out, with the president's approval ratings holding steady over the last month (actually, Pollster's average has had Obama's approval ratings on a slow decline since the beginning of the year, but setting it to 'less smoothing' shows that decline has decelerated since mid-March, and certainly no apparent new movement since the IRS thing broke). Here, the Q poll has a low Obama approval number of 45%, down three ticks from May 1, but as always the polling averages are more useful, and they've already told as that nothing's happening. [PlainBlogAboutPolitics, Pollster]

Q-Poll Twitter chatter:

POLLING FIRM ’REPUBLICAN REPUBLICAN REPUBLICAN’ IS SATIRE, SADLY - HuffPost: “It's not uncommon for campaigns to take issue with the results of polls, or to counter by releasing more favorable internal numbers. But Republican Ken Cuccinelli took a somewhat different tack after the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling found him trailing rival Terry McAuliffe by 5 points in the race for Virginia governor: His campaign created its own mock polling firm to deliver more welcome news. From their satirical press release: ‘Ken Cuccinelli leads Terry McAuliffe by 12 points in a Virginia statewide poll released today by the newly formed polling firm, Republican Republican Republican (RRR). Cuccinelli Campaign Strategist Chris LaCivita formed RRR last week and has pledged to only conduct surveys on behalf of Republicans ... According to LaCivita, the automated telephone survey of 600 likely Virginia voters had a margin of error of +/- 0.00%.’” HuffPost] PPP’s response:

THURSDAY'S 'OUTLIERS' - Links to more news at the intersection of polling, politics and political data:

-Nate Cohn casts doubt on the idea of a 2016 Hillary Clinton landslide. [TNR]

-Bloomberg consumer confidence index holds near a five-year-high. [Bloomberg]

--2 in 5 women would consider solo parenthood. [AP]

-Michael Steele ponders running for office again, says "we’ll see what the numbers tell us.” [Daily Caller via @LoganDobson]

-Ted Talks founder Dan Ariely says "big data is like teenage sex." [Facebook]

-How to pronounce G-I-F (in Virginia)? Gif 41 percent, Jif 17 percent, 42 percent unsure. [PPP]