If you follow politics, you’ve probably read Mark Blumenthal’s work. As Senior Polling Editor for the HuffPost Pollster section of the Huffington Post, Mark’s articles follow the ups and downs of political polls for one of the highest traffic media websites in the world. However, Mark goes far beyond the simple horse-race analysis. As a former practicing researcher with social science bona fides, Mark gets deeply into the “why” behind the numbers.
You see, Mark Blumenthal is an unlikely journalist. He started his career as a pollster working for myriad national political campaigns.
Then, before many people had blogs, he started a site called MysteryPollster.com, where he gave his take on public polls. His blog grew in popularity and then became Pollster.com. Eventually, Pollster.com was bought by the Huffington Post.
I had the opportunity to interview Mark in-person during a recent trip to DC. You can listen to the entire interview by downloading the latest episode of the Research Life Podcast (on iTunes or directly using this link).
From Pollster to Blogger
The story of how Mark’s blog rose to prominence is fascinating: “Before I was a blogger I was a source,” he said. “In the early part of the last decade there were not a lot of political blogs between 2000 and 2004. That was when that phenomenon really started. But one of the better-known journalists who was writing a daily blog was Mickey Kaus, then of Slate, who would, as he still does, occasionally veer off into speculation about poll numbers. That’s sort of a quirky way of looking at things that other journalists didn’t – ‘question the numbers.’”
Helpful Polling Tips
“At one point,” Mark said, “he was writing about the recall election in California in 2003. And I thought of something I had sort of had an interest in, a very unique opportunity to maybe poll a different way and I sent him an email about that. He wrote back and said, ‘This is interesting. Can I use this? Can I quote you?’ ‘Sure,’ I wrote back, thinking that he might use a line the typical way you could quote it in a story. And woke up the next morning to see it – in the parlance of blogging – ‘block quoted’ – about 200 words of something I sent, a whole long paragraph or two, and quoted from it extensively.”
A (Mystery) Star is Born
Mark said, “He had written a whole item about it, and called me Kaus’ Mystery Pollster M, for my first initial, and I was sort of blown away by this. He said, ‘This is great – send more any time.’ So over the course of about a year, I think I probably emailed him a half dozen different times, maybe more than that. And Mystery Pollster M became the Mystery Pollster. “
Mark also described his goals as MysteryPollster.com became Pollster.com. “We had three aims. One, to build a website with a following to basically build a brand with a following and then audience. And I think we succeeded at that. We had an intent to do sort of a pro-bono service to the survey research industry and profession, and I think we succeeded there. AAPOR recognized us with the Mitosfky Innovator’s Award in 2007. And we had hoped to make some money, and on that third one we did not succeed. Or at least to make a profit. We had some revenue, but we were red on the balance sheet of YouGov Polimetrix (the corporate entity that owned Pollster.com). So we started – it’s a long process, but we ultimately found Arianna Huffington. And The Huffington Post stepped forward and took Pollster.com off the hands of Doug Rivers (CEO of YouGov Polimetrix) and acquired it from them, alas not from me. But I did get a job as the Polling Editor here in the deal. And I think more importantly the ability to continue Pollster.com as the HuffPost Pollster section of Huffington Post. But it’s basically doing what we built it to do from day one.”
Arianna and Much More
For Mark’s recounting of his first meeting with Arianna Huffington, as well as extensive discussion of polling methodology, listen to the entire interview by downloading the latest episode of the Research Life Podcast.