Clinton aide analyzes ‘microtrends’

At a time when publishing a book has practically become a prerequisite for presidential candidates, one presidential adviser has claimed his own place on the bookshelves.

With only a few months left before the first presidential primaries, Sen. Hillary Clinton’s LAW ’73 chief strategist, Mark Penn, has released “Microtrends: The Small Forces Behind Tomorrow’s Big Changes,” a book he co-wrote with fellow Clinton strategist Kinney Zalense ’87. The book discusses how small groups of Americans can dramatically change the country’s political, commercial and social landscape.

Penn said the book accumulates and analyzes 30 years worth of polling data and strategy work for clients, who include numerous political and corporate giants. Yale students and professors interviewed said the publication and subject matter seemed carefully timed to coincide with the lead-up to the winter primary elections. But Penn said the book covers a range of issues — 75 microtrends in all — and had no specific bearing on campaign strategy.

Microtrends identifies various groups that Penn said have and will have an impact disproportionate to their size. In politics, Protestant Hispanics may have helped President George W. Bush ’68 win the 2004 election, he said. On the commercial side, he said, “sun-haters” could be a new marketing audience for “sun-safe clothing” and “government action against the purveyors of the suntan,” according to excerpts of the book released by the publishing company.

“The concept is that [Americans] are becoming more diverse,” Penn said. “People form choice-based groups which [lead] to the growth of tolerance.”

But Penn, in the course of a Tuesday phone interview with college newspapers, denied that the book was especially applicable to a political campaign.

Although political strategists may attempt to read into the book to gather Clinton’s campaign strategy, Zalesne — who first worked with Penn during former President Bill Clinton’s LAW ’73 1996 re-election campaign and has worked as counsel to former Attorney General Janet Reno — said such political strategists would be disappointed.

“People are welcome to look … but I don’t think they’ll find it,” she said. “The book is more useful for governing [than campaigning].”

Political science professor Sean Smith, who worked on Sen. Joe Lieberman’s ’64 LAW ’67 senate campaign in 2006 and as an adviser to presidential candidate John Edwards, said he agrees that the content is likely to be lacking anything useful for an opposing campaign.

Even after the campaign is finished, Smith said, Penn will have other high-profile clients and would not want to reveal any trade secrets. Instead, Smith said he thinks the book will serve as insight into Penn’s brand of data-based strategy, which Smith said was key to winning the 1996, 2000 and 2004 presidential elections.

One of the notable trends Penn mentioned is the “Impressionable Elite” — the idea that while many people assume wealthier, better-educated Americans are more likely to vote based on complex policy considerations, regular middle-class voters are actually more issue-oriented. The “elites” are actually influenced by persona and style, he said.

Students interviewed said while they could not speak to the book as a whole, particular microtrends seemed to have possible implications for the campaign. They said they think the reference to personality-voting among elites seemed directed at primary opponents like John Edwards and Barack Obama, who have benefited from flashier public images than Clinton.

Other students and professors said they see a connection between the timing of the book’s release and the ongoing campaign.

Harry Green ’08 said the book’s publication could help Clinton attract more swing voters. He compared Penn to Bush’s chief campaign strategist, Karl Rove, noting that Rove’s strategic work helped give Bush’s campaign a seemingly scientific understanding of Americans’ concerns.

Making the country aware of Clinton’s high-profile strategist could have a similar effect in helping Clinton seem more qualified to serve as president, Green said.

“The idea is to make people interested in the strategy behind Clinton’s campaign,” he said. “How sophisticated her campaign is [translates into a perception] of how sophisticated she will be at running the country.”

Political science professor Adam Simon said he agrees it would be beneficial to Clinton for her adviser to receive media attention. Based on his observations of recent elections, Simon said he thinks modern campaigning has come to be dominated by big-name strategists.

“Every successful campaign has its media wizard,” Simon said. “To create that image would probably be helpful to a campaign.”

Still, Smith said the book will likely have a greater effect on Penn’s future strategy and polling work than on the current campaign, on which the impact will be negligible.

Ultimately, Zalesne said the book was about examining everyday situations in a new light.

“Once you start looking for microtrends, you start seeing the world in a different way,” he said.

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