So tonight at the Strand I went to meet Mark Penn. For those of you not aware Mark Penn is the chief strategist and pollster for Hillary's campaign. He does not receive a whole lot of love at AOTG for his rather slimy spinning of stories and polls. You may know him as the guy who mentioned "drug use" as a way of not mentioning "drug use" about Obama (you see, like I just did). Anyway, he was actually pretty affable and a fairly entertaining speaker.
He rather scrupulously avoided the discussion of politics, unfortunately, but there were some telling ideas in his discussion. He was there to promote his book Microtrends, which is essentially Moneyball for all of society rather than just baseball. Basically the book examines a bunch of "microtrends" or small discrete social units that are often overlooked by a large portion of society and statistical analysis. I think I will post more concretely on this in the near future as I want to read more deeply; but, I think it is pretty fascinating that he insists on defining "microtrends" as functions of socially cohesive units. It's a social aspect of data trends that I am very interested in, and I want a more complete picture of his argument before I dive in. It, however, strikes me as possible that most of these units cohere not natural, but as a function being examined and marketed to. But before I get in to a weird pop sociology debate with Mark Penn (and Malcolm Gladwell for that matter) back to the point at hand.
One of the big trends Penn emphasized is what he called the LASers (or Long Attention Spanners). He argued that we have been so focused on the people with short spans of attention that we have lost an eye for the LAS market. This certainly seems to have borne itself in the Hillary campaign, looking at her strategic decisions to vote an affirmative on the legislation condemning the Irani Guard and her willingness to discuss policy in great details. More telling was his discussion of rich elites. He made the argument that working class consumers are much more particular and focused when making decisions. His argument was essentially that because of greater cohesiveness and access to information sharing amongst the elite, they are far more likely to accept major news stories and conventional wisdom of their community as gospel. He didn't have much evidence for this, just assertion (an assertion that I think undergirds much of his argument about "microtrends"). However, the underlying message seemed pretty clear to me, despite his disinterest in talking about politics. It struck me as a somewhat dressed up way to discuss the Obamamania sweeping the liberal wine-set. It's a point that merits some further consideration, and perhaps a deeper discussion at some point in the future.
Finally, I must say, the crowd who goes to hear a book talk from Mark Penn at the Strand on Monday night is a pretty darn intelligent crowd. Most of the questions were insightful and actually furthered the discussion (except for the few that tried to bait Penn in to a political discussion). Afterwards everyone milled around talking with each other and Mark, and I got to have a nerdily wonkish conversation about determining sample sizes for incredibly small populations and specific markets. Anyway, my point is that Mark Penn, not such a bad guy to talk to for awhile, despite any impression one might receive from the media.
Oh, by the by, first person to correctly identify the parenthetical reference in the post title wins a prize.