I must confess that I’m a sucker for books like Mark Penn’s and E. Kinney Zalesne’s Microtrends. Why? Because I love numbers, specifically demographic numbers. In that sense, I really enjoyed this book. For those who find too many stats annoying, the book’s fun, clipped, breezy and example-filled writing is very accessible. Some microtrending groups struck me as obvious or familiar (“Christian Zionists” are those John Hagee-inspired nutjobs), while others were quite surprising (“Long attention spanners”…who knew?!). Just so we have the primary definition out of the way, Penn defines a microtrend as an “intense identity group, that is growing, which has needs and wants unmet by the current crop of companies, marketers, policymakers.”
Given Mr. Penn’s political background, I had expected Microtrends to contain more findings or advice related to political targeting and lessons for partisan politics and party-building. Certain chapters, of course, suggest important political-electoral implications, and there are scattered references throughout other chapters of partisan effects or patterns. (Did you know, for example, that internet daters are disproportionately Democratic, or that about three-quarters of women who work in the fields of law enforcement, construction and armed services consider themselves moderate or conservative?) More generally, the book lacks a structural synthesis or narrative to hold together these microtrends, though maybe that’s precisely the point. Indeed, this may be the only book ever described by its author as both an “impressionist painting” and a “periodic table”; the 75 chapters are very short—micro-chaptered, you might say, so the book’s execution fits its theme.
General reactions aside, my own microtrend is 40-year-old, first generation college-educated, liberal, white social science professors and political junkies who yearn to know more from Mr. Penn about how the microtrending of America will affect our politics, especially partisan politics. And so I’ll kickoff today’s salon with four questions, and then let FDL’s voracious, smart readers have at him. Here goes:
1. I believe in the power of demography as a predictor of some human behaviors, including certain political behaviors like voting, but demography is not destiny. (How else to explain, among countless other possible examples, that the secretary of state–a single black woman with a PhD–is Republican?) To what degree and in what ways do you think demography remains a strong predictor of political attitudes, identity and voting?
2. If America is splintering into sub-, sub-sub- and sub-sub-subtrends/groups, will it become increasingly more difficult for politicians to target and message to voters (and donors)? And if so, how will candidates and consultants like you solve this problem of ever-increasing demographic complexity?
3. “Soccer moms,” “Nascar dads”—some subgroup inevitably becomes the darling of the dance each presidential cycle. Any predictions on which niche group the media will obsesses over in 2008? (Please provide a quick definition of the group.)
4. This last, two-part question is admittedly self-serving. I presume that, as Clinton campaign guru, you won’t dare admit that the campaign will run an almost exclusively non-southern strategy (though your colleague James Carville told as much earlier this year), so let me ask it this way: If Hillary is the Democratic nominee, which southern states besides Florida do you honestly believe she can win, and which microtrends might help her there? And, however she performs in the South, do you think she can amass 270 non-southern electoral votes (as her husband did twice), and again, which microgroups will help her capture some of the non-southern states that Gore and/or Kerry didn’t win?
Thanks for joining us at Firedoglake’s book salon, Mr. Penn, and welcome aboard.