POLITICS
02/18/2014 05:26 pm ET Updated Feb 18, 2014

HUFFPOLLSTER: Most Important Problem Poll - Government Mentioned Less Often, So Economy Mentioned More

Chip Somodevilla via Getty Images

A Gallup question shows rising concern about unemployment, but that's mostly because the number one concern of late 2013 -- Washington dysfunction -- has faded. The demographic composition of off-year elections is just different enough to create a big challenge for Democrats. And are you a political or data scientist ready to help us put a dent into our corner of the universe? Have we got a job for you. This is HuffPollster for Tuesday, February 18, 2014.

UNEMPLOYMENT RISES AS CONCERN - On an open-ended question, Gallup finds an increase in the percentage mentioning unemployment or jobs since October (from 12 to 23 percent). The question asks for "the most important problem facing this country today," so the rise in concern about jobs occurs, in part, because of a decline over the same period of the percentage mentioning the government or politicians (from 33 to 18 percent). Rebecca Riffkin: "Prior to last fall, either jobs or the economy had led the 'most important problem' list going back to February 2008, and these two have regained their top spots in the Feb. 6-9 poll. Healthcare continues to rank among the top problems, with 15% naming it, unchanged from January." However, mentions of healthcare have also declined slightly (from 19 to 15 percent) since November. "Now that the shutdown is over and the government has successfully passed a budget and avoided another debt ceiling shutdown, Americans appear to have shifted their focus away from the government and back to the still relatively weak job market." [Gallup]

2014-02-18-gallupimportantissue.png

Will Congress gain ground too? - Gallup Editor-in-Chief Frank Newport: "[W]e have a mini-breakthrough from the public's viewpoint. For the first time since October, Americans do not say that dysfunctional government is the most important problem facing the country...As memories of the shutdown in October have faded, so have the top-of-mind mentions of problems in government as the nation’s top problem. This February update came prior to the actual votes this past week in Congress, so they were not a proximate cause. But clearly there has been less posturing, grandstanding, and talk about the need to shut down government in order to call attention to the need to save it. Maybe some of that is seeping through to the average American." [Gallup]

THE DEMOGRAPHICS OF 2014 - CBS News Elections Director Anthony Salvanto uses past exit poll results to examine how the demographics of an off-year elections like 2014 compares to presidential elections: "[F]ewer people vote in midterms for House and Senate control than in presidential races – about 40 million fewer in the last cycle; or just 41 percent turnout compared to 58 percent...This turnout difference doesn’t always affect each side evenly, though: midterm electorates have been a little older and more conservative, and have more white than minority voters compared to presidential years, which these days means groups that lean Republican are showing up more. This chart shows the average differences between presidential year turnout and midterm turnout for the last three cycles. None of these may look like huge differences at first glance, ranging from 1 to 6 points, but in a big country a few percent adds up to millions of votes; and in a closely-divided one, that counts a lot.." Salvanto also sees some trends since 2002 that add up to "potentially good news: for Democrats: "Over the last three cycles the midterm electorate has, as it did in presidential years, gotten more diverse: slightly more African-American, and higher relative Hispanic turnout nationwide. However, it has also gotten a little older (21 percent in 2010 up from 18 percent in 2002) and the percent of voters under 30 has only gone up a smidge. All told, probably a mixed bag for Democrats." [CBS News]

2014-02-18-CBSDemographicDilemma.png

PANDORA MODELING VOTE CHOICE? - Elizabeth Dwoskin: "Next time you listen to a Bob Marley channel on Pandora Media Inc., the Internet radio service may peg you as likely to vote for a Democrat. The Oakland, Calif., company plans to roll out a new advertising service next week that would enable candidates and political organizations to target the majority of its 73 million active monthly Pandora listeners based on its sense of their political leanings.
How can it do this? The company matches election results with subscribers' musical preferences by ZIP Code. Then, it labels individual users based on their musical tastes and whether those artists are more frequently listened to in Democratic or Republican areas. Users don't divulge their political affiliations when they sign up for Pandora"...Pandora's inferences start with a user's ZIP Code, supplied at registration. Pandora then reviews election results for that county, Mr. Krawczyk said. So if 80% of citizens in a certain county voted for President Obama in 2012, Pandora assumes that 80% of people in the ZIP Codes in that county 'lean Democrat.' If the county voted twice for Obama, the algorithm pegs users in those ZIP Codes as likely to be 'strong Democrats.'" [WSJ]

Skepticism about the WSJ report via Twitter:

-Political scientist Kevin Collins: "[T]argeting by musical taste seems a little inefficient to me if you can already target by ZIP...Either WSJ is doing a poor job of describing the @pandora_radio algorithm (admittedly, the likely option), or Pandora is doing it wrong." [@kwcollins here and here]

-Freelance political engineer Aaron Strauss, agreeing with Collins: "[M]y thought exactly. But that doesn't get you a WSJ article. Why not survey [individuals] and microtarget? EI problems galore here."

-Journalist Sasha Issenberg: "Apparently Pandora built a political-targeting system without talking to anyone who's ever done political targeting." [@victorylab]

ANNALS OF LEADING QUESTIONS - A survey by the organization Faith Driven Consumers finds "that 98% of its supporters were not 'satisfied' with Hollywood’s take on religious stories such as 'Noah,' which focuses on Biblical figure Noah. Faith Driven Consumers has been tracking the viability of major Hollywood films courting faith-based audiences this year." The question they asked?: "As a Faith Driven Consumer, are you satisfied with a Biblically themed movie – designed to appeal to you – which replaces the Bible’s core message with one created by Hollywood?"
[Variety]

-"Possibly the most ridiculous survey question/data of all time," tweets political scientist Brendan Nyhan. "How did this get into print?" [@BrendanNyhan]

POLLSTER WANTS YOU! - HuffPost Pollster has an immediate opening for a social data scientist to join us full time, preferably in our Washington D.C. bureau, to work on development and improvement of our poll tracking models and political forecasts.

You are someone who has:
* A passion for electoral politics,
* Advanced training in statistics and dynamic Bayesian data analysis,
* A Ph.D. in political science, economics or the social sciences or comparable high level training or experience,
* A desire to make a lasting contribution in the way the news media cover polls and elections.

We are:
* The award-winning website formerly known as Pollster.com, which joined the Huffington Post in 2010 and remains the internet's premier source for uniquely interactive polling charts and electorate forecasts and a running daily commentary that explains, demystifies and critiques political polling.
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To apply, please send an email with cover letter and resume to mark@huffingtonpost.com with the subject line "Pollster data scientist."

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

-One in four Americans believes the Sun goes around the Earth. [NPR]

-Democrats have held a slight advantage on Rasmussen's generic U.S. House vote for 7 of the last 8 weeks. [Rasmussen Reports]

-Two new polls find Anthony Brown leading Doug Gansler in the Democratic primary for Governor of Maryland. [WaPost, Baltimore Sun]

-A new poll of Hawaii shows competitive Democratic primaries for Senate and governor and shows Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D) trailing his Republican opponent. [News Now, Star Advertiser, Politico]

-Wendy Gruel's poll finds Wendy Gruel leading in the race to fill Henry Waxman's House seat in California. [Roll Call]

-New Jersey's Hurricane Sandy victims are unsatisfied with their state's recovery efforts. [Monmouth]

-YouGov finds no evidence that Mitt Romney is enjoying a resurgence in popularity. [YouGov]

-A majority of New Yorkers want to legalize weed. [HuffPost]

-Robert Blizzard and Chris Markwood (R) find encouraging news for Republicans in Gallup's State of the States Report. [POS]

-Nicholas Kristof berates academics for shunning public debate." [NYTimes]

-"We're right here," responds Erik Voten. [WaPost's Monkey Cage]

-Kristof responds to his academic critics. [NYTimes]

-Hans Noel says Kristof "still doesn't get it." [Mischief's of Faction]

-Academics consider Eleanor Roosevelt the nation's best first lady. [AP]

-The Census Bureau will test a survey this year that makes first contact by email or text. [Pew Research]

-Another report on the potential power of addressable television for political campaign advertising. [AP]

-The p-value is overrated. [Nature]

Ariel Edwards-Levy is off today. She'll be back on Thursday.

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