I’ve recently been hearing a bit about Mark Penn’s book "Microtrends: The Small Froces Behind Tomorrow’s Big Changes". As this review says, Penn analyzes poll and survey data to identify 75 important microtrends (which appear to correspond to ‘small’ segments of the US population, say at least 3 million) that, he believes, are interesting and important.

How, since Mark Penn is the guy who identified the ‘soccer mom’ demographic for Bill Clinton’s 1996 re-election and is now the chief political advisor to Hillary Clinton, when he talks, people listen.

And when I listend, I’ve found what he has to say interesting. However, since I haven’t read the book, I don’t know exactly how he comes up with his microtrends. It seems like the scientific approach would be to apply clustering algorithms or factor analysis or some such technique, which, as far as I can tell from browsing reviews.

I wonder what such an approach would reveal: if you ran a clustering algorithm, say, on a large survey dataset, would the clusters include Penn’s microtrends? Would one even be able to make sense of the clusters?

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