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Keeping Research Tools Sharp in Boston

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Competitive Edge Research joined more than 1,100 of the country’s brightest public opinion and survey research professionals in Boston for four busy days at the 68th annual American Association for Public Opinion Research Confercence.  The gathering’s prodding theme was, “Asking Critical Questions: Toward a Sustainable Future for Public Opinion and Social Research.”

The topic made for interesting sessions, with papers on using social media, like Twitter, to conduct opinion research.  While the topline results from a Twitter-based study involving a teacher’s strike in Chicago roughly mirrored results from traditional polling, the author noted that Twitter provided almost no context for the numbers it gave the researchers.  Further, it was impossible to know whether results were actually coming from the Chicago area.  Another good paper was delivered by stalwart AAPOR presenter Don Levy of Siena College.  His paper presented in-depth comparisons of live vs. automated polling in congressional races.  The key observation here was that the interactive voice response technique grossly underperformed live polling among voters under the age of 55.  The Field Poll’s Mark DiCamillo delivered a very solid paper on the growing political might of ethnic voters in California.  The key takeaway:  young Latinos are definitely not your father’s Latinos.  They are far less conservative on a range of issues, and that has dire implications for California’s GOP.

A stand-out plenary session with the Obama campaign’s Dan Wagner – an analytic wunderkind – divulged details on how the campaign drove the importance of data mining and usage. And yet, the strategist called the hugely successful campaign “boring,” the inference being that the heavy duty analytics made election night predictable.  Obama For America’s keys to winning were getting started early, an unshakeable commitment to analyzing everything they did, a comprehensive voter list compiled by the DNC (Wagner called it the 2012’s “unsung hero”) and inter-organizational data transparency which allowed the quants to do their thing without drama.  Oh, and a ton of money helps too.

In the midst of such mind expansion, a trip to the makeshift memorial dedicated to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing at Copley Square allowed for a little reflection. It is worth noting that, other than the memorial and “Boston Strong” along Boylston Street, life in Beantown seemed exceedingly normal.

A behind-the-scenes tour of Fenway Park provided the ultimate baseball-lover experience at a truly great institution. Nothing quite so wonderful as standing atop the “Green Monster” or sipping a gin and tonic at Bleacher Bar, the only bar set inside the outfield wall of a Major League Baseball park.

After just a few short days, it was back to the Left Coast with refreshed minds and sharper research tools.

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