Political Book Watch: Mark Penn's "Microtrends"

It might be unfair to Mark Penn, Hillary Clinton's chief strategist, to scour every inch of his new book for insights about the current race or the Clinton family, but consider: if Karl Rove had written a book in 1999 describing 75 demographic trends -- the "small forces behind tomorrow's big changes" -- well, you get the idea. news_mark_penn.jpg

Penn, the force behind Clinton's 1996 re-election targeting of suburban women, is convinced that voters do make rational choices, and when political scientists are confronted with evidence to the contrary, they just aren't asking the right questions. His worldview is not materialistic; he knows that voters don't always vote their pocket-books; they vote their values and aspirations. His are an attempt to explain why people often make choices that are inexplicable to the naked eye.

Some of the trends he notices, based on a decade's worth of survey research and demographic data crunching, are often illuminating and even fascinating. He's studied working women, in particular, very carefully, noticing that, for example, a huge number of adult women play sports and noticing, that, for example, 57% of journalists are women. The professions of public relations and the law are trending toward the same lopsidedness.

The easy criticism of Penn's methodology (and that of consumer modeling in general) is his reductiveness is arbitrary and that he is the author of the trends that he sees. But Penn is careful not to predict too much about the future, and that's refreshing. Also, many of Penn's microtrends result from the aggregation of largely individual choices -- the choice of women to play sports, the choice of more closeted gays to come out, the decision to form entirely new religions, etc.

Here's what he writes about politics.

## There are 10 million Protestant Hispanics in the U.S. today. 90 percent of them adhere to a variant of Pentecostalism. It was this subgroup of Latinos who helped George W. Bush increase his margin among Hispanics in 2004 -- "the percentage of Bush voters among Hispanic Catholics remained exactly the same." Penn's own surveys suggest that Protestant Latinos are largely values voters; Catholic Latinos are much more likely to respond to economic issues.

## "Every day in this 2008 election season, I hear two voices. First, I hear, "If only X or Y were warmer, and friendler, I would vote for him/her." Second, I hear, "I like the candidates who address the issue. This is a serious election, and we need a president who truly gets our problems and will help solve them." A "funny thing has happened to the American electorate: it's flippe dupside down. America's elite ... have become less interested in America's economic and strategic challenges than they are in the candidate's personalities." The elites say that it's because the lower orders of society don't understand the issues, they decide based on personality, so it's only natural for the elites to follow. (Penn has polling data to back this up.) Turns out, there's a sliding scale. When voters reach a certain income level -- around $100,000 -- a plurality focuses on character and personality. Under $100,000, Penn found that a majority focus on issues.

## It's tempting to read something about Barack Obama's fundraising successes or appeals to elite Democrats in here, but Penn's book was completed well before he wrote these words: "So between the 527-underwriting Mega-Donors and the increasingly powerful Elite Donors [those couples earning more than $300K a year who can easily max out to candidates], we have a new class of givers playing an increasingly important role in politics -- and statistical proof that their heads are nowhere near the voters.'"

## "Contrary to conventional wisdom, there is a massive swing electorate out there, receiving more information from more sources than ever before, and acting on it."

## In '04, Penn estimates that nearly 5M ex-cons were "disenfranchised." The total of numbers of convicts returning to society grows by 650K each year.

## For Kremlinologists out there, Penn makes two (small) digs at Al Gore. One is: "Every day I hear experts say that voters and consumers are misguided scatterbrains....that is why politicians pay consltants to tell them to wear earth toned suits." The other is on Page 221.

More interesting Penn trends after the jump.

For example:

## There are about 109 million straight women in America now compared to 98 million straight men; the gender ratio in the African American community is 56 to 44, female to male. The surplus of single women "are left out of the institution of marriage." They are also more economically engaged than single men: single women bought twice as many new homes than single men in 2005.

## Within the past ten years, the number of women who sought younger male boyfriends has quintupled. These are the "cougars," Penn writes.

## As of 2006, Nearly 60% of Americans have been involved in an office romance. 3.5 million Americans are in relationships where one partner lives in a different city than the other. More than 3 million marriages are interracial.

## The "Old New Dads." The proportion of new dads over 40 years of age "is skyrocketing." (Penn is one: "AARP take note, we may join you at 50, but a growing number of us still have kids in elementary school."