The unlikely world of Eric Ostermeier

The University researcher has drawn national media attention for his politics blog.

Meghan Holden

Most professors focus their time on research for scholarly journals — but not all.

Eric Ostermeier, a research associate at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, spends all of his time researching for his nationally recognized blog, Smart Politics.

Initially a five-hour weekly commitment, Ostermeier estimated he now spends 40 to 50 hours a week working on the blog. Many of his more than 1,500 posts have been cited by conservative and liberal media outlets alike.

Before starting work at the Humphrey School in 2006, Ostermeier earned degrees from Monmouth College, the University of Michigan Law School and the University of Minnesota, where he got his political science Ph.D.

While working toward his Ph.D., Ostermeier took a position as a research assistant at the Humphrey School.

Once he had his degree, he took a full-time job as a research associate at the Humphrey School, which included writing a weekly non-partisan blog.

When he began, Ostermeier said he didn’t read political blogs.

“I was not interested in, essentially, the digital equivalent of partisan radio,” he said, “[the] sort of political drive-by shootings that these political blogs often presented in their views of politics or policy.”

Ostermeier tends to do unconventional research that hasn’t been done before.

Research he’s published on Smart Politics has ranged from counting how often candidates blink in debates to the historical relevance of races in Minnesota.

A recent blog post by Ostermeier reported how this year’s election is the first since 1994 where three Minnesota congressional races could be decided by single digits, according to polling.

The researcher said he is “very interested in both numbers and politics” and that Smart Politics is “the intersection between using data and analyzing politics.”

National news outlets picked up his research after the first presidential debate. After watching the debate Ostermeier had a “hunch” that the two candidates didn’t receive equal speaking time. He then timed how long each spoke and discovered President Barack Obama had four-and-a-half minutes more than Gov. Mitt Romney.

Fox News and other media outlets picked up his research. Since then, the candidates’ time has been more closely scrutinized, Ostermeier said.

Local media outlets also picked up Ostermeier’s research on how often candidates blink in debates.

While watching the Republican primary debates, Ostermeier noticed then-candidate Rick Santorum  blinking at high rate.

He found that Santorum blinked almost twice as much as other candidates.

Ostermeier employed the same tactic for the first presidential debate. He found that Obama  blinked 1,000 more times  than Romney, whose blinking rate was already at an increased rate. Ostermeier believes Obama’s blinking rate was a “nonverbal sign that [Obama] was sort of searching or uncomfortable as he was searching for answers.”

More than politics

Although Ostermeier is recognized on a national scale, he’s less visible at the University.

He works mostly from his home in the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood, where he’s lived with his wife in a Victorian-style house since 2008.

Ostermeier said he doesn’t feels it’s necessary to have a cellphone, but he does have a “functional candlestick phone.”

The phone is just one historical piece of his nearly 130-year-old house. He keeps his research for Smart Politics in bookshelves from the 1890s and other books and files in an early 1900s filing cabinet.

Although he spends his time surrounded by artifacts of the past, Ostermeier invests his free time in modern-day projects as well.

He and his brother Marc  own Minneapolis-based independent record label Words On Music .

The brothers represent acts from across the nation and the world, including Ostermeier’s own project Motion Picture, in which he sings and plays various instruments. 


Ostermeier believes the content and his audience are the main reasons for the blog’s success.

He said politicians and journalists most frequently read his blog and that journalists’ publication of his work has gained him national notoriety.

But he said it’s the non-partisan aspect that keeps people coming back because it makes his work “trustworthy.”

Larry Jacobs , director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance, oversees Ostermeier and described him as a “virtuoso.”

“Single-handedly, he is churning out week after week original and important

research studies that are driving news coverage in Minnesota and in the national media,” Jacobs said. “In an era when the media has slimmed down their news departments, Dr. Ostermeier is — with only a little exaggeration — becoming a political news department himself.”

In the past, Ostermeier’s political predictions haven’t always been accurate, but he said he’s been “pretty good,”

He’s reserving judgment on the outcome of this year’s election until closer to Nov. 6.

But he did predict that this election cycle will be interesting because of the potential for a lot of “split-ticket voting” and “unusual results up and down the ballot.”

“It is going to be very difficult for prognosticators to be completely confident in their predictions,” Ostermeier said.