Database

Lies, Damned Lies and Demographics

Demographics could be turned on their head in the 2016 presidential election by an unconventional candidate with unpredictable appeal in “flippable” states that could determine who wins in November.

Demographics could be turned on their head in the 2016 presidential election by an unconventional candidate with unpredictable appeal in “flippable” states that could determine who wins in November.

Demographics are just statistics with faces. But demographics are also statistics influenced by non-quantitative facts, such as political passion.

In presidential elections, demographics draw a lot of attention. This year is no exception, though some of the usual demographic lines have been scrambled, in large part because of the insurgent “outsider” campaigns of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

Trump has attracted strong support from white men, including union workers in Rust Belt states, and evangelicals, despite a lack of credentials on dealing with social issues. Sanders’ “political revolution" appealed to many young voters, but it also revived the interest of older voters who had dropped off of the political map. Hillary Clinton, who has strong appeal for women voters, has managed to gather as strong or stronger support from African-Americans and Latinos than Barack Obama in 2008.

Despite high negative ratings and demographic predictions that Republican presidential prospects this year were circling the drain, Trump emerged from the Republican National Convention in Cleveland last week with a slight lead over Clinton.

According to fivethirtyeight.com, Republican presidential nominees do best among white voters without college degrees. But this demographic cohort is aging and declining by about 3 percent every four years. Meanwhile, whites with a college degree, who lean Republican but do cross over, are increasing by 1 or more percentage points every four years.

“In other words, Democrats’ coalition of non-white, young and well-educated voters continues to expand every election, while Republicans’ coalition of white, older and less-educated voters keeps shrinking,” said David Wasserman, writing for fivethirtyeight.com. "It’s no wonder Democrats have an emerging ‘stranglehold on the Electoral College’ because of favorable trends in states like Colorado, Florida, Nevada and Virginia.”

However, that stranglehold seems a little limp in this election cycle. 

Nate Silver, founder of FiveThirtyEight, says demographics don’t favor Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton as strongly as some might imagine.

Nate Silver, founder of FiveThirtyEight, says demographics don’t favor Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton as strongly as some might imagine.

Nate Silver, the founder of FiveThirtyEight, says just a small percentage shift in voting could flip Colorado, Florida, Iowa, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin to the GOP in 2016, providing enough electoral votes to capture the presidency.

Trump is stretching traditional demographic line by pushing his opposition to trade deals and a law and order agenda that hold appeal for disaffected voters in the Rust Belt and Middle America.

Of those states Silver identifies as “flippable," Sanders outpolled Clinton in Colorado, New Hampshire and Wisconsin. Sanders and Clinton were virtually tied in Iowa and Sanders came close to winning Michigan, another Rust Belt state with a lot of blue-collar union voters. A contributing factor in Sanders’ success was his opposition to trade deals, which he said left many American workers in the lurch.

The Clinton campaign is working hard at the Democratic National Convention this week to woo Sanders’ supporters. But Silver says it may be a fool’s errand because many Sanders’ supporters are new or irregular voters who may not even vote in November. He also says some Sanders’ voters are politically independent and “ticket-splitters."

The upshot is Clinton may be forced to hustle to retain union voters from Trump and Sanders supporters from a third-party candidate like Jill Stein of the Green Party.

Another demographic down note for Clinton is that her commanding lead among Latino voters may be deceiving in terms of its impact on the Electoral College. Silver says Latino votes are concentrated in states such as California, New York and Texas that aren’t in play. That is changing as Latino populations increase across the nation, which have led some to suggest that predictably red states like Arizona could become purple. However, the change may not occur this year.

Some of Clinton’s strongest support in the primary came in Southern states where African-American votes dominated Democratic voting. Normally they wouldn’t turn Red states blue, but conservative voters upset with Trump could produce surprises in states such as North Carolina and George, where polls show Trump even with Clinton. Another election-day surprise could be Utah, dominated by Mormons who are offended by Trump’s politics. Clinton is holding her own there, too.

Online Quizzes: Recreational and Informative

Online quizzes, like this one from  AARP , are all the rage because they are an entertaining form of customer engagement. But of course, they also can be engagingly informative.

Online quizzes, like this one from AARP, are all the rage because they are an entertaining form of customer engagement. But of course, they also can be engagingly informative.

People shrink from responding to phone surveys, but they trip over themselves to participate in online questionnaires, like BuzzFeed’s personality quizzes

While public opinion pollsters have to make more calls to achieve a representative sample on a phone survey, people eagerly take online quizzes on anything and everything from personality types and careers to celebrities, dog breeds and sex. As changes in the marketplace are complicating traditional polling methods, maybe now is the time to consider the potential of online quizzes as an alternative.

Yes, the two have some big differences. Where public opinion polls dig for people’s views, online quizzes often only offer a chance for a few minutes of pleasurable escape. Public opinion polls, of course, are intended to produce findings. Online quizzes, on the other hand, are about fun and engagement, not hard numbers.

So yes, online quizzes may not generate “data” in the truest sense. However, they do reflect popular themes and gratify people’s narcissistic obsessions, especially those of the “me” generation. Why do people love me? What career should I pursue? Which superhero do I resemble? Who am I really?

Online quizzes aren’t just for the kids, though. AARP posts trivia games and online quizzes about entertainment, leisure, money management and dementia symptoms. In its effort to protect against elder financial abuse, AARP created “Catch the con quiz” featuring Frank Abagnale, Jr., whose story of outsmarting victims and the FBI was told in the Steven Spielberg movie Catch Me If You Can.

Ultimately, quizzes are just a cheaper version of contests to stimulate interaction. There usually aren’t any prizes or judges involved – people judge for themselves. But if a brand can glean tidbits of information about people from their quiz answers, it is engagement with a purpose.

In some cases, online quizzes can have an educational value. Participants can discover some unknown facts about subjects that interest them. And they can learn what they don’t know.

BuzzFeed is one of the leading practitioners of online quizzes. The site posts just about any kind of personality quiz imaginable, with fetching headlines that resemble a call to action. Data indicates BuzzFeed’s quizzes have drawn millions more page views than the company’s other content. 

The bottom line is that as polling faces participation challenges, online quizzes are enjoying unprecedented popularity, and they can help turn your electronic platform into a game board. While many topics are mostly for just fun, online quizzes can be a gentle introduction to more serious topics.

Online quizzes are more recreation than research, but that doesn’t diminish their value as an outreach tool that gets people talking.

The Library App for the Digital Age

Think libraries are for a bygone era? Think again. Libraries remain viable as brick-and-click resource centers, especially for lifelong learners and people eager to add skills, earn credentials and find job opportunities.

Think libraries are for a bygone era? Think again. Libraries remain viable as brick-and-click resource centers, especially for lifelong learners and people eager to add skills, earn credentials and find job opportunities.

Libraries are often lumped together with horse-and-buggy carriages. But just as horse-drawn carriages gave way to motorized vehicles, libraries have become electronic hubs.

According to the Pew Research Center, many of the e-services libraries offer – which include job search and training resources – often go unrecognized by library patrons, especially those who actually go to a library instead of its website.

In a report last month, Pew Research noted library visits have continued to decline and library website use has leveled off. Of the people who go to a library, bookmobile or library website, nearly 100 percent view themselves as “lifelong learners.” Almost three-quarters of adults taking advantage of library resources say they read how-to materials or participate in other learning activities.

Women are more frequent library users than men. College grads use physical library resources at two times more often than high school dropouts, and they employ library websites three times as much. Urban and suburban residents tap their libraries at slightly higher rates than rural residents. Racial differences in library use aren’t particularly different, though Hispanics seem less prone to use online library services.

An unavoidable conclusion from Pew’s assessment is that the people who might benefit most from under-utilized library professional and job training and credentialing services are least likely to access them in person or online. They may not use these services because they aren’t aware of them, which may reflect that libraries and their government sponsors haven’t done as good a job as possible in making people aware of new-generation library resources.

Pew’s findings suggest an avenue of appeal to library non-users – self-identification as a “personal learner.” It seems people take pride in going to the library and using library services. It also may pay off in terms of improved skills, a professional credential or job leads.

For some, libraries may seem like yesterday’s news. They have been replaced by the Internet. What is missing in that assessment is the knowledge librarians have in organizing and harnessing useful information on shelves and online. Libraries even have an app for that.

The Trump Triumph of Earned Media

The numbers show Donald Trump snuffed out his GOP presidential competitors for nightly network TV news coverage. The reason was Trump’s skill at earning free coverage, not media bias.

The numbers show Donald Trump snuffed out his GOP presidential competitors for nightly network TV news coverage. The reason was Trump’s skill at earning free coverage, not media bias.

The power of earned media has never been more evident than in the 2016 presidential campaign by Donald Trump. However, one media analyst believes that Trump is getting an extra boost because of news bias.

While most other presidential aspirants have spent millions, Trump has spent relatively little on paid advertising. Trump's bombastic, no-holds-barred speaking style, combined with punchy, pungent tweets, have kept him in the limelight – and perhaps sucked the oxygen out of his opponents’ campaigns.

The Media Research Center, a politically conservative news content organization based in Virginia, analyzed the evening coverage on ABC, CBS and NBC from January through October last year and found Trump received 116 minutes of air time from January through July and 266 minutes from August through October. Trump’s share of coverage of the GOP presidential race in the latter part of 2015 exceeded 56 percent.

From August to October, Jeb Bush garnered the next highest share of coverage, with 57 minutes, or around 12 percent. He got a higher share from January to July with 72 minutes, equaling 22.8 percent.

Scott Walker, who dropped out of the race after a couple of months, earned more minutes from January to October than Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, the only remaining candidates within shouting distance of Trump.

Some candidates’ exposure on network nightly news was clocked in seconds. Rick Santorum racked up 111 seconds of coverage from January to July, then slipped to just 33 seconds from August to October. If you blinked, you might have missed George Pataki’s candidacy, which earned around a minute of coverage. Jim Gilmore, who didn't end his candidacy until last week, received zero coverage.

Media Research Center analysts blamed the disparity on liberal news media bias. They claim the bloated coverage for Trump was intended to winnow the GOP field and, in particular, squeeze out politically conservative candidates.

The data produced by the Media Research Center seems to tell another story. The “establishment” candidates, such as Chris Christie, John Kasich and Lindsey Graham, didn’t fare any better than their more outspokenly conservative colleagues. In fact, Ben Carson received 55 minutes of coverage late last year, which was double the coverage of Carly Fiorina and Rubio and nine times the coverage of Christie and Kasich.

The story told by the data is that Trump stole the show. Using insults, talk show appearances, provocative proposals and profanity, Trump commanded the airwaves. He was a reliable daily sound bite. And he was willing to talk any time of day or night.

Trump’s emergence as the Republican frontrunner is a story in itself, but he added a story hook with virtually every appearance he made. In the world of strategic communications, we call that earned media, and Trump got a lot of it.

Bush got some of his coverage by bashing Trump. Carson earned much of his by inching up momentarily to Trump.

You can blast Trump for manipulating the media, but you have to compliment the guy for doing it so well and so often.

Earned media kudos also should go to Vice President Joe Biden who collected 110 minutes of network TV nightly news coverage from last August to October as he toyed publicly with entering the Democratic presidential race. As the Media Research Center grumbled, that’s a lot more coverage for a candidacy that never materialized than for GOP candidates who were out on the political stump. And the reason for Biden’s success – his skill at earning free media coverage.

Rising Tide of Digital Political Campaigning

Digital outreach, both in the form of targeted ads and social media engagement, can be a less expensive way to reach critical segments of voters.

Digital outreach, both in the form of targeted ads and social media engagement, can be a less expensive way to reach critical segments of voters.

Just as companies are discovering how to capitalize on their databases, digital strategists are using similar techniques to zero in on voters with targeted online advertising and engagement.

A recent Reuters article predicted political candidates could spend as much as $1 billion for online advertising and engagement in the 2016 election, using more sophisticated techniques than the Obama campaign employed in 2012.

While Obama's team lapped the field in 2012, Republican and Democratic operatives are playing on a more level field heading into next year's election in scouring publicly available data to find hooks for directed appeals. The Reuters story noted that targeting has reached the point where a campaign seeking to reach environmentalists could identify registered voters who had typed Toyota Prius into a Google search.

No one says digital outreach will outstrip television advertising, which remains the surest way to deliver a message to a wide audience. But broadcast media is increasingly segmented. Few ads run during major sporting events because they are expensive and there are too many eyeballs watching that belong to people who aren't registered voters. You can waste a wad of money without a smart, targeted media buy plan.

However, when the airwaves are clogged with political ads – the $1 billion digital estimate is less than 10 percent of total projected political advertising in 2016 – you need other options. Digital outreach, both in the form of targeted ads and social media engagement, can be a less expensive way to reach critical segments of voters.

The handful of boutique firms that specialize in digital political advertising aren't eager to share their special sauce. But it isn't rocket science. They are leveraging mounds of information contained in databases to laser in on target voters. This allows campaign message managers to use customized messaging for various voter groups.

Targeting has reached the point where families in a neighborhood may be watching the same TV show, but see totally different political ads based on their demographic and voting characteristics. That is greatly more refined and granular than having Republican candidates advertise on Fox and Democrats on MSNBC.

Digital outreach also affords opportunities for interactions, which can be a key to converting a contact into a contributor. Both political parties have learned the ropes of competing for PAC, SuperPac and dark money contributions and will need a swatch of online contributors to demonstrate they have broad support, not just a few rich patrons.

While digital campaigning has come out of the shadows, its practitioners aren't sharing all their newly developed tricks. Those won't become apparent until the campaigns are more fully underway. Other than Hillary Clinton, most of the presidential candidates who have thrown their hats into the ring are fighting to gain name familiarity ratings in double digits. They are trying to reach anybody they can.