Americans' worries about race relations increase dramatically. Hillary Clinton's huge primary lead dips slightly. And we remember pollster and journalist Mike Mokrzycki. This is HuffPollster for Monday, December 22, 2014.
REMEMBERING MIKE MOKRZYCKI - On Friday evening, political polling lost a gentle giant, and HuffPollster lost a dear friend. Michael Mokrzycki, a longtime journalist, survey researcher and founding director of the AP Polling unit, died of an apparent heart attack. He was 52 years old.
Mike worked for the Associated Press for 24 years, beginning as reporter in Augusta, Maine right out of college in 1985 and later transferring to AP's national news desk in New York City. As his AP obituary explains, "Mokrzycki (pronounced mohr-ZIK'-ee)...was part of a group of reporters who won an Associated Press Managing Editors Award for Spot News for the news cooperative's coverage of the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993." He began coordinating exit poll coverage in 1994, and worked to train AP's reporter and editors how to analyze poll data. As founding director of the AP's polling unit, he helped create a set of standards for reporting on polls and surveys written into the AP Stylebook.
After leaving AP in 2009, he founded his own company where his clients included the most respected survey organizations in the business, including NBC News (where he served as an exit poll analyst and ultimately managed election night exit poll coverage), the Pew Research Center, Harvard University School of Public Health, ABC News and the Washington Post.
I got to know Mike when we served back-to-back, overlapping terms as Communications Chairs on the Executive Council of the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) six years ago. Survey Monkey's Jon Cohen, who followed Mike in the same position, has similar memories of him as "the best of AAPOR...Enthusiastic, dedicated, sincere, and smart."
Mike brought the same energy and spirit of innovation to AAPOR that he did to his day job, helping lead the organization "into the brave new world of social media," as Cohen puts it. Mike created AAPOR's presence on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, something he continued to manage long after his official term had ended. "He was a natural for the medium, bringing wit and brevity to the tough cause of high quality polls," Cohen recalls. If you've ever read a tweet from AAPOR, especially during its annual conference, odds are good Mike wrote it.
AAPOR's current president, Michael Link, adds that Mike's passion over over the last 5-6 years "was ensuring that AAPOR's history was preserved for future generations," working to archive interviews with the pioneers of survey research in the organizations archives at the University of Chicago. "He had a keen sense & interest in how the Association evolved over time, the activities of the many volunteers (not just the executive council), and preserving these dynamics," Link said.
Behind the scenes, Mike was also a good friend to Pollster.com and later Huffington Post Pollster, often emailing with encouragement and advice on how to improve our site and do a better job making poll data transparent.
Mike's accomplishments were second to none in the survey field, but he also never took himself too seriously. In October, he emailed about a presentation he was giving the next day to the New England AAPOR Chapter, which included a chart that appeared on the Colbert Report. "I was in the audience for a taping of Colbert in fall 2010," he added. "A day or two earlier Pew had released the Religious Knowledge Survey, which I'd project-managed. Colbert mentioned it in the show that night. One of the highlights of my career, even if I didn't yell out, 'HEY, I WORKED ON THAT!'"
We will miss him dearly.
RACE RELATIONS NOW SEEN AS A MUCH BIGGER PROBLEM - Justin McCarthy: "The percentage of Americans naming 'race relations' or 'racism' as the most important problem in the U.S. has climbed dramatically to 13%, the highest figure Gallup has recorded since a finding of 15% in 1992, in the midst of the Rodney King verdict. In November, race relations/racism was cited by 1% of the public as the most important problem. Since 1992, the percentage of Americans saying race relations/racism is America's biggest problem has ranged from 0% to 5%. The jump to 13% this month comes on the heels of national protests of police treatment of blacks in the wake of incidents in Ferguson, Missouri, and Staten Island, New York, among others….After barely registering with Americans as the top problem for two decades, race relations now matches the economy in Americans' mentions of the country's top problem, and is just slightly behind government (15%).... It remains to be seen whether this public concern persists, as it did during the civil rights era, or recedes as quickly as it did in 1992." [Gallup]
CUBAN-AMERICANS SPLIT BY BACKGROUND - Marc Caputo and Joey Flechas: "Cuban-Americans nationwide are almost evenly divided over support for the embargo and for President Obama’s effort to normalize relations with Cuba, according to a new poll that shows a vast generational divide in reaction to this week’s historic announcement….The profile of those most likely to disapprove of Obama’s positions and more-normalized relations with Cuba: Republicans, those over 65 and those born in Cuba who emigrated to the U.S. before the 1980 Mariel boatlift crisis. After Mariel, immigrants from Cuba have tended to be considered economic immigrants, instead of political exiles….Those born in the U.S. supported the normalization effort by 64-33 percent. Those born in Cuba opposed it 53-38 percent. Of those born in Cuba, those who emigrated before Mariel in 1980 opposed the deal 64-29 percent. Those who came after Mariel were split, with 45 percent in favor and 44 percent opposed." [Miami Herald via @RonBrownstein]
CLINTON REMAINS PROHIBITIVE DEM FRONTRUNNER - Scott Clement: "Sixty-three percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say they'd vote for [Hillary Clinton] if their state's primary (or caucus) were held today, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. Biden garners 14 percent, Warren wins 11 and three other candidates get less than 5 percent each, including Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Virginia senator Jim Webb and Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley. Clinton's 49-point lead is actually her worst performance of the year in Post-ABC polls, with her support slipping 10 points over the course of four surveys this year (the first of which only listed three candidates)....Clinton's lead is not likely to be this big one year from now. Once candidates (including Clinton) actually announce their candidacies and debates are held, Democrats will become more familiar with their options and some will certainly pick other candidates." [WashPost]
AMERICANS LESS COMFORTABLE THAN DICK CHENEY WITH CIA'S WRONGFUL DETENTIONS - HuffPollster: "Most Americans agree with former Vice President Dick Cheney's sentiments on the CIA's post-9/11 detention program: 'Bad guys who got out and released' and returned to the battlefield are more of a concern than 'a few that, in fact, were innocent' and detained, Cheney said on "Meet the Press" Sunday after the Senate released a summary of a report detailing serious errors and abuses in the program. But the high percentage of wrongfully detained prisoners -- at least 22 percent, according to the report -- gives many people pause, a new HuffPost/YouGov poll finds….after being told about the Senate report's estimate of how many people were wrongly detained -- and that some of those people were tortured -- just 27 percent thought the wrongful detentions were acceptable, while 66 percent said they were unacceptable. Those in the latter camp were split, with 33 percent saying some mistakes are unavoidable but that the number was too high, and 30 percent that the U.S. should never subject an innocent person to torture." [HuffPost]
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MONDAY'S 'OUTLIERS' - Links to the best of news at the intersection of polling, politics and political data:
-Americans are skeptical of commercial drones [AP]
-The Pew Research Internet Project measures current public perceptions of privacy. [Pew]
-Jeb Bush might have a tea party problem in 2016. 
-Seth Masket says Obama is unpopular because he’s been effective. [MischiefsOfFaction]
-The Census Bureau lowers projections of Hispanic population growth as immigration slows. [Pew]
-Census Director John Thompson answers calls at a Census Bureau call center. [Census]
-Mona Chalabi explains why Second Street is a more popular street name than First Street.