04/12/2013 04:28 pm ET Updated Apr 26, 2013

Not Your Usual 'Outliers'

The latest in scientific public opinion polling confirms that Americans are feeling more positive about the direction of the country than they have in six years...or not. And data science is a big deal and the New York Times is on it. This is a very different Pollster 'Outliers' for Friday, April. 12.

PESSIMISM GROWING...EXCEPT WHEN IT ISN'T - Two of our favorite national polls are out this week with a contradictory message on perceptions of the direction of the country. The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds the percentage of Americans who say "things in the nation are generally headed in the right direction" rather than "off on the wrong track" has fallen back to 31 percent gradually since the election, since hitting a high of 42 percent (among likely voters) in late October and 41 percent (among all adults) in December. Other polls have picked up a nearly identical trend.

But results from a similar question asked by the latest CNN/ORC International poll goes the other way. "As the stock market continues to show record highs," CNN reports, "the number of Americans who say things are going well in the country has reached 50% for the first time in more than six years, according to a new national survey." Their surveys show a gradual increase from 30 percent over the course of 2012 and early 2013.

While the format and answer categories are different, the subject of CNN's question is similar: "How well are things going in the country today -- very well, fairly well, pretty badly or very badly?"

So why the conflicting trend? Your guess is as good as ours, but question order might be a clue. The classic "right direction-wrong track" probe is the very first question asked on the NBC/Wall Street Journal and most other polls. The "how are things going" question on the CNN poll comes a bit later, following a battery of job approval measures of President Obama and the rated importance of eight different issues.

Any theories? Drop us a line.

MORE FROM NBC/WSJ -- First Read reports: "Fourteen years ago, back in 1999, the poll asked this question: What should be a more important goal for society -- promoting greater respect for traditional values, or encouraging greater tolerance? An overwhelming majority of Republicans (by 76%-16%), a majority of independents (54%-31%), and a plurality of Democrats (49%-41%) all picked traditional values. But when we asked that question again in our new NBC/WSJ poll, there was a significant change: Almost two-thirds of Democrats picked tolerance (64%-31%), and independents moved, too (narrowly siding with traditional values, 48%-43%). But the Republican percentage remained virtually the same from 1999 (77%-18%)"

BIG DEMAND FOR BIG DATA SCIENTISTS -- Yes, you've read this before, but Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times has the lowdown on "big data" and academia's response to the growing demand for data scientists: "In the fall, Columbia will offer new master's and certificate programs heavy on data. The University of San Francisco will soon graduate its charter class of students with a master's in analytics. Other institutions teaching data science include New York University, Stanford, Northwestern, George Mason, Syracuse, University of California at Irvine and Indiana University."

WHAT HAPPENED TO 'OUTLIERS' AND WTF IS THIS? - Yes, if you've read this far, it's obvious that we are repurposing our Friday afternoon 'outliers' link summary to a more meaty feature. Look for it to start appearing on a daily basis with, coming very soon, the option to subscribe via email.

For now, here are the rest of today's 'outliers' -- links on news at the intersection of polling, politics and political data:

Scott Clement and Juliet Eilperin explain why opinions on abortion haven't shifted with gay marriage and marijuana legalization.

Joel Benenson finds Americans don't know much about gun laws.

The Pew Research Center has an interactive graphic on how Americans feels about paying their taxes.

Seth Masket finds evidence that party endorsements matter in primaries.

Doyle McManus talks GOP and fantasy politics polling.

Nicole McClesky begins a multi-part series on the GOP and Hispanics.

Harry Enten puts Martin O'Malley in perspective.

Tom Edsall reviews the hurdles facing the GOP in attempting to narrow the Democrats' data edge.

Joel Benenson answers three questions on the 2012 Obama campaign.

Danny Jester and Kyle Roberts review six trends in political media time buying.

The Midwest Political Science Association's annual meeting includes a post-election roundtable moderated by The Monkey Cage's John Sides with Simon Jackman, Nate Silver, Ezra Klein, Drew Linzer, Lynn Vavreck and Larry Bartels.

Jason Kottke collects Twitter sparklines.

Pavel Atanasov and Jason Dana highlight a gender gap on playing "The Price Is Right."

HuffPost Pollster gets polled.