Inside Track: Politics Guru on Calling Races, Political Advertising, and the Supreme Court:

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  • Politics Guru on Calling Races, Political Advertising, and the Supreme Court

    Ken Goldstein, a political scientist, researcher, and a member of the ABC News team that calls presidential elections, provides a sneak peek of the issues he’s likely to tackle in June as the 2017 Annual Meeting & Conference opening speaker.

    Joe Forward

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    Ken Goldstein

    Photo courtesy of the University of San Francisco.

    April 19, 2017 – Presidential election days are particularly long for Ken Goldstein, an elections expert who has helped call presidential races for major news networks since 1988, the year George H.W. Bush defeated Michael Dukakis for the presidency.

    In 2016, Goldstein was analyzing the presidential election data for the ABC News Decision Desk team, which projected that Donald Trump would win before George Stephanopoulos, election-night anchor for ABC News, reported it to the masses.

    “It’s pretty exciting, quite a rush,” said Goldstein, a professor of politics at the University of San Francisco and the former director of the Wisconsin Advertising Project at U.W.-Madison. “We are basically looking at three sources of data when making the calls.”

    “We are looking at data from exit polls. Then we take statistically valid samples of precincts in the state and try to get quick counts from those precincts,” said Goldstein, based in Washington, D.C. “We know certain precincts and counties are likely to go certain ways, and then we model off that as we get into the more current data.”

    Goldstein is the opening speaker at the State Bar of Wisconsin’s 2017 Annual Meeting & Conference, June 15-16 in Wisconsin Dells. He may discuss his work for ABC News Decision Desk, a small team of election experts that also includes Charles Franklin, a law professor at Marquette Law School who directs the Marquette Law School Poll.

    If there’s an opening with one of the more liberal justices, then it really becomes one of the biggest political showdowns of our lifetime.

    But he’ll focus on the political environment as it looks in June, especially political issues that will be of considerable interest to lawyers, including new U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, and the possibility that Trump could get a second pick.

    “Replacing a conservative with a conservative doesn’t change the balance of the court,” said Goldstein. “But if there’s an opening with one of the more liberal justices, then it really becomes one of the biggest political showdowns of our lifetime.”

    Goldstein, interviewed in late March, said it will also be interesting to see where we are, in June, on executive orders that have faced legal challenges. “Republicans certainly challenged Obama in the courts, and we are seeing more of that now,” Goldstein said.

    The resignations of federal prosecutors is another issue he may discuss. “All those federal prosecutors who got fired are potentially strong candidates to run for Congress or governor,” he said. “So it will be interesting to track what happens there.”

    It All Starts in Iowa

    Goldstein, a highly dynamic speaker with an unbiased and nonpartisan approach to political analysis, will bring a unique perspective on politics to AMC. And he’s excited to return to the Badger State, where he cut his political data teeth, so to speak.

    Joe Forwardorg jforward wisbar Joe Forward, Saint Louis Univ. School of Law 2010, is a legal writer for the State Bar of Wisconsin, Madison. He can be reached by org jforward wisbar email or by phone at (608) 250-6161.

    Goldstein is particularly astute on political advertising, an area that he studied extensively as director of the Wisconsin Advertising Project at U.W.-Madison. But it all started in 1987, when the recent college graduate landed a research job at CBS.

    CBS sent Goldstein, who just graduated from Haverford College, to Iowa to work the 1987 caucuses. The 1987 primaries culminated in the race between Bush and Dukakis.

    “In Iowa, you learn to love the Midwest, and you learn about retail politics,” Goldstein said. “I was doing the initial precinct-level research used to build models for covering the race. And on election night, I was doing the quality control as the data came in.”

    I was the one doing research so the people in New York could call the races. Now, I’m the people in New York calling the races.

    That was 30 years ago. “I was the one doing research so the people in New York could call the races. Now, I’m the people in New York calling the races,” he said.

    Goldstein says calling races is different now in the sense that there’s more computing power and data, but the core function is still the same. It’s just public opinion research.

    “But we are now in this world of internet polls and the ability to flood the zone with polls, so it’s really hard to tell what is of good quality,” Goldstein said.

    Goldstein’s work led him to CBS Nightwatch, hosted by Charlie Rose, then he pursued a Ph.D. degree in political science at the University of Michigan. During this time, more money was flowing into political advertising, and the internet was blossoming.

    A grad student, he was a teaching a course in Washington, D.C. when he discovered, through a connection, a particular source of data on political advertising, tracked by the Campaign Media Analysis Group (CMAG), where he later served as president.

    On to Wisconsin

    Goldstein partnered with CMAG, a political consulting firm whose clients have included Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, to bring that research to his first professorship at Arizona State University. Then he brought the data to U.W.-Madison, where he directed the Wisconsin Advertising Project and served on the faculty from 2000 to 2010.

    “Now, there’s lots of information available about political advertising, but back then, we were the only game in town,” Goldstein said. “So the news media were voracious consumers of our Wisconsin Advertising Project data. News media would use it to cover the campaign, and then graduate students and I would use it in our work studying the effects of advertising on various sorts of factors when it comes to American elections.”

    With solid data and analysis, Goldstein brought Wisconsin to the forefront on political advertising, just as Marquette Law Professor Charles Franklin is now doing in the area of polling. For his research accomplishments, Goldstein received a U.W. Kellett Award.

    In an article by Goldstein’s alma mater, Haverford College, a colleague said Goldstein’s work at U.W. Madison “revolutionized the way we study campaign ads.”

    Now the professor of politics is directing the University of San Francisco’s D.C. program, which allows students of politics to be closer to the political action. And he continues his exhaustive research on political advertising and other topics.

    He has authored or co-authored four books, and numerous journal articles. Major TV networks and newspaper outlets have relied on Goldstein as a source of information. And now he’ll bring his thoughts and ideas back to Wisconsin, as an AMC speaker.

    Privacy a Hot Topic

    Goldstein said he may discuss privacy issues in political advertising, a hot topic as campaigns increasingly use consumer data to target voters with advertising.

    “Targeting has always been around in politics,” said Goldstein. “But with advances in the quality of the voter file, campaigns can target way beyond the precinct level.

    “And even beyond the street level,” he said. “Advertisers now have the ability to target individual houses and apartments, the individuals within those individual houses and apartments, and to tailor their messages very specifically to reach them.”

    For instance, advertising campaigns can obtain data on TV watching habits, or obtain insight on political leanings or political opinions, based on internet sites visited.

    Advertisers now have the ability to target individual houses and apartments, the individuals within those individual houses and apartments.

    “It’s anonymous, but they are saying, ‘these sorts of people with these political characteristics, which we know from the voter file, tend to watch these shows, and other people tend to watch these shows,” Goldstein said. “In a similar way, your click patterns on your computer, your ISP, might be linked to the voter file as well.”

    “We will increasingly have the ability to tie information from the voter files and consumer information to media habits,” Goldstein said. “It’s probably something where the regulation has not kept pace with the ability of the targeters to target.

    “That’s one of the things I can share with the group when I’m there,” he said. “Everyone talks about the death of TV advertising. It’s not growing anymore, but still where most of the money will go in the foreseeable future. That said, digital is getting a bigger chunk.”

    Goldstein may provide insight into the unorthodox Trump campaign, massively outspent by Clinton’s campaign on advertising. “It reminds us that it’s not just the tonnage, it’s the message,” Goldstein said, noting Clinton was largely absent in Wisconsin.

    And Goldstein will be sure to discuss the current events of the day, whatever those are in June. “We have no idea what the world is going to look like in three months, given everything that’s going on. But I’ll provide the latest updates from Washington, what it means for the country, and specifically on issues that interest the legal community.”

    More on the State Bar's Annual Meeting & Conference

    Don’t miss in-depth CLE programming and a chance to network with judges, lawyers, legal staff, and other legal professionals at the 2017 Annual Meeting & Conference, June 15-16, at Glacier Canyon Lodge at the Wilderness, Wisconsin Dells.

    Register now to choose from dozens of CLE sessions, hear two plenary speakers, visit the Legal Expo, cheer on your colleagues at the Member Recognition Celebration, join the networking luncheons, celebrate at the Presidential Swearing-in Ceremony, and enjoy the All-Conference Western BBQ. Book by May 15 for the best deals:

    • Save more than 10 percent on tuition when you register by May 15.
    • Reserve by May 15 and get reduced rates on lodging at Glacier Canyon Lodge.
    • New to AMC? First-time attendees save an additional $100 off the registration fee.

    Learn more about AMC.