06/20/2013 05:03 pm ET

POLLSTER UPDATE: The Obama Big Data Team's New Frontier


The marketplace of Obama data guru start-up companies is getting crowded. Harper Polling adds a new twist to the usual dueling partisan poll story. And there's a good reason why a majority of Americans supports paid sick leave. This is the HuffPost Pollster update for Thursday, June 20, 2013.

OBAMA'S TECH TEAM CASHES IN - This Sunday's New York Times Magazine features a 7,000 word piece by Jim Rutenberg, published to the web on Thursday, chronicling how the Obama campaign’s "digital masterminds" are cashing in on their success: "Political marketing has usually lagged behind commercial marketing. Companies that spend billions of dollars a year developing ways to make many more billions of dollars a year tend to have little to learn from presidential campaigns, which are generally start-ups aimed at a one-day sale. But the (re)selling of the president, 2012, was an entirely different matter. The campaign recruited the best young minds in the booming fields of analytics and behavioral science and placed them in a room they called “the cave” for up to 16 hours a day over the course of roughly 16 months. After the election, when the technology wizards finally came out, they had not only helped produce a victory that defied a couple of historical predictors; they also developed a host of highly effective marketing techniques that were either entirely new or had never been tried on such a grand scale." [NYTimes]

Television time buying - Rutenberg focuses Analytics Media Group (A.M.G.), a new advertising company that was "founded in late December by a splinter group of longtime Obama advisers: Larry Grisolano, who oversaw how the campaign spent its advertising dollars; Grisolano’s direct-mail partners Terry Walsh and Pete Giangreco; Jeff Link, a seasoned Iowa veteran who was an outside adviser in 2012; and Erik Smith, an advertising consultant for the 2012 campaign...Grisolano and McLean and the others were part of a singular breakthrough in the field of television-ad buying, where about 50 percent of the campaign’s budget was spent, or more than $400 million. Previous campaigns would make decisions about how to direct their television-advertising budgets largely based on hunches and deductions about what channels the voters they wanted to reach were watching. Their choices were informed by the broad viewership ratings of Nielsen and other survey data, which typically led to buying relatively expensive ads during evening-news and prime-time viewing hours. The 2012 campaign took advantage of advanced set-top-box monitoring technology to figure out what shows the voters they wanted to reach were watching and when...The system gave Obama a significant advantage over Mitt Romney, according to Democrats and many Republicans (at least those who were not on Romney’s media team). Now A.M.G.’s founders say the company is at the forefront of a move to turn upside down the way the $60-billion-a-year television-ad market has functioned since its start. And they hope to get very rich in the process. [ibid]

Tomorrow's PoliSci push-back today - Johns Hopkins University political scientist Daniel Schlozman: "Credulous take on Obama digital team. If TV ads don't persuade, what value in targeting them perfectly?...Also, striking lack of public-service mission from Obama digerati now making $$$, as opposed to so many vols who knock on doors." [@daschloz, via @VictoryLab ]

Republicans pursue better 'big data' techniques - The Times' Micah Cohen takes a closer look at "the new electioneering" being developed by a Republicans company called BehaviorMatrix: "The company’s co-founder and chief technology officer, Charles Davis, has helped develop a set of technologies and algorithms that quantify and measure voter emotion and opinion online. The company is tracking what people are saying on Facebook, Twitter, blogs and elsewhere to determine how people think and feel about issues that might matter at the polls...While BehaviorMatrix has measured and modeled online opinion and emotion for clients before, it has just begun trying to link online profiles with flesh-and-blood voters. The company’s algorithms also use publicly available information, like a person’s name and address, to tie a name in a voter file to a comment on a blog or Twitter post." [NYTimes]

DUELING POLLS IN UT-04 - Two automated polls on the U.S. House race in Utah's 4th Congressional District, one sponsored by the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) and conducted by Harper Polling, and the other sponsored by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), produced very different results. The NRCC poll showed Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson leading Republican challenger Mia Love by just three percentage points (44 to 41 percent), while the DCCC poll conducted three weeks later gave Matheson a 14 point lead (54 to 40 percent). As the Rothenberg Political Report's Nathan Gonzales concludes, "no breaking news there." Publicly released "internal" polls often exhibit a pattern of favoring their own candidates. [See HuffPost]

But Gonzales reports an unusual backstory: "According to a write-up in The Salt Lake Tribune, the [NRCC] general-election ballot test came after a question that asked if respondents wanted 'a Republican who will be a check and balance to President Obama or a Democratic candidate who will help President Obama to pass his agenda?' Unsurprisingly, Utahns chose the 'check and balance' candidate, 56 percent to 27 percent...Democratic strategists believed the question order tainted the purity of the ballot test question...Multiple veteran pollsters on both sides agree that if the check-and-balance question was asked first, it would likely “taint” the ballot test between the candidates. But according to Brock McCleary, founder of Harper Polling and former NRCC polling director, his survey started with a generic ballot, then the initial head-to-head, and then the check-and-balance question. That order is different from the order of the questions in the memo (generic, check-and-balance, ballot test) that was released to selected reporters and likely resulted in the confusion." [Rothenberg Political Report, see also Salt Lake Tribune]

MORE TRANSPARENCY, PLEASE - Market opinion researcher Reg Baker shares doubts about a write-up of a very different story -- one on privacy -- that nonetheless shares a common theme: "The real issue for me is not the numbers; it's whether I should believe any of what this piece says. I would like to know at least something about how this research was done beyond the N and the countries where people were interviewed. Was it online? How was the sample drawn? Who provided it? How were the questions worded? Was their weighting? And so on. I spent a few minutes searching the web for more info, but all I got was more links to the same unhelpful press release....This stunning lack of transparency is now commonplace in virtually all media channels." [Reg Baker]

MAJORITY SUPPORTS SICK LEAVE - HuffPost’s Emily Swanson and Dave Jamieson: “A majority of Americans support mandating paid sick leave for employees, according to a new HuffPost/YouGov poll. Seventy-four percent of Americans said that employers should be required to offer paid sick leave, while 18 said they shouldn't be required to do so, the poll found. Another 9 percent said they weren't sure. Majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents in the poll said they support mandating paid sick leave, though Democrats were somewhat more likely to do so....As the poll findings suggest, the idea of a requirement is less contentious among the general public than it is among politicians, with Democratic lawmakers generally supporting a mandate and Republicans in Congress largely opposing it.” [HuffPost]

Many adults also serve as caregivers - Pew’s Susannah Fox, Maeve Duggan and Kristen Purcell: “Four in ten adults in the U.S. are caring for an adult or child with significant health issues, up from 30% in 2010. Caring for a loved one is an activity that cuts across most demographic groups, but is especially prevalent among adults ages 30 to 64, a group traditionally still in the workforce....This survey finds that fully 75% of U.S. adults age 65 and older are living with a chronic condition such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or heart disease. Numerous studies have shown that the day to day management of these complex medical cases falls squarely on family members and friends who may not be trained. But, as this study shows, caregivers are turning to every resource available to get the information and support they need.” [Pew]

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

-Americans are split on whether they approve or disapprove of the Supreme Court. [CNN]

-Non-white Americans express greater confidence than whites in most major institutions, especially the presidency, television news, and Congress. [Gallup]

-Two thirds of California adults say marriage should include same-sex couples. [SurveyUSA]

-Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg's unique survey of 80 competitive U.S. House districts "suggests Republicans could be even more vulnerable than they were in 2012." [Democracy Corps]

-Sean Trende revisits “the case of the missing white voters.” [RCP]

-Social media web sites "are growing as voluntary data mining operations on a scale that rivals or exceeds anything the government could attempt on its own." [NYTimes]

-D’Vera Cohn explores why the German census came up 1.5 million people short. [Pew Research]

-Connecticut residents continue to prefer the Yankees to the Red Sox, though not by much. [Quinnipiac]

-"Being a statistician means never having to say you are certain," and other "statistics jokes." [Cross Validated via @AlexLundry]