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The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns

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The book Politico calls “Moneyball for politics” shows how cutting-edge social science and analytics are reshaping the modern political campaign.

Renegade thinkers are crashing the gates of a venerable American institution, shoving aside its so-called wise men and replacing them with a radical new data-driven order. We’ve seen it in sports, and now in The Victory Lab, journalist Sasha Issenberg tells the hidden story of the analytical ...

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The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns

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Overview

The book Politico calls “Moneyball for politics” shows how cutting-edge social science and analytics are reshaping the modern political campaign.

Renegade thinkers are crashing the gates of a venerable American institution, shoving aside its so-called wise men and replacing them with a radical new data-driven order. We’ve seen it in sports, and now in The Victory Lab, journalist Sasha Issenberg tells the hidden story of the analytical revolution upending the way political campaigns are run in the 21st century.
     The Victory Lab follows the academics and maverick operatives rocking the war room and re-engineering a high-stakes industry previously run on little more than gut instinct and outdated assumptions. Armed with research from behavioural psychology and randomized experiments that treat voters as unwitting guinea pigs, the smartest campaigns now believe they know who you will vote for even before you do.  Issenberg tracks these fascinating techniques—which include cutting edge persuasion experiments, innovative ways to mobilize voters, heavily researched electioneering methods—and shows how our most important figures, such as Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, are putting them to use with surprising skill and alacrity.
     Provocative, clear-eyed and energetically reported, The Victory Lab offers iconoclastic insights into political marketing, human decision-making, and the increasing power of analytics. 

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Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
For most campaigns today…getting out the vote…increasingly rely on a blend of computer technology and behavioral psychology that has revolutionized the political universe. That is the central argument of Sasha Issenberg's The Victory Lab, and at the risk of serving up over-caffeinated hype, it really is an indispensable guide for understanding what has changed, how and why. Issenberg is one of the cadre of younger political writers…who have come of age with a solid understanding of statistics and algorithms…Issenberg also has a firm grounding in the political universe. This combination enables him to chart a virtual century's worth of efforts by political scientists and campaign pros to find out what motivates people to go to the polls, what makes them more likely to choose one candidate over another and what kind of messages work best. By the end, you will understand exactly why you may be receiving a plain, unadorned letter or a phone call congratulating you on your voting record, or asking you when you plan to vote and how you plan to get to the polls.
—Jeff Greenfield
Publishers Weekly
Turns out there’s plenty of actual science in political science, and this new book from Issenberg (The Sushi Economy) shows how it’s being deployed with increasing sophistication in nearly every significant election. Also the basis for an aptly titled e-book, Rick Perry and His Eggheads, this bipartisan examination of behavioral science and high-level campaign strategy takes the Moneyball approach to the clashes between polling strategists’ quantitative methodologies of get-out-the vote and the gut-level instincts of old campaigners. Issenberg’s early history of political data collection and data-crunching, from the 1920s to the mid 1960s, is particularly deft. There are closely drawn portraits of generally unknown number crunchers and hidden strategies, including the behavioral insights of Todd Rogers, whose Analyst Institute gave rise to a sophisticated persuasion and get-out-the-vote infrastructure for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, and the approach of Dave Carney, whose explorations of Republican voter behavior guided races from George H.W. Bush’s 1992 loss to Rick Perry’s successful Texas gubernatorial race. Issenberg’s thorough analysis of the transformation of the smoke-filled campaign backroom to a data-rich network would delight a budding political statistician. However, only the most hard-core political junkies will find book-length resonance in discussions of research methods and software development for political ends. Agent: Larry Weissman, Larry Weissman Agency. (Sept.)
Kirkus Reviews
How political campaigns have mastered marketing tools to profile the electorate. In his second book, Monocle Washington correspondent Issenberg (The Sushi Economy: Globalization and the Making of a Modern Delicacy, 2007) incorporates his experiences covering the 2008 election for the Boston Globe. He provides anecdotes gleaned from interviews with leading political consultants and a historical overview of the integration of computer technology and behavioral psychology into social marketing, and he traces the increasing sophistication of modern campaigns to the Kennedy campaign. Confronting prejudice against Catholics, JFK's advisors recommended tackling the issue head-on after subdividing the electorate into specific demographic categories. Issenberg explores the parallel development of the application of behavioral psychology and the recognition that many voting decisions are heavily influenced by emotion rather than rational choice. He tracks the influence of a group of academics from top universities like Yale, who influenced the shape of the modern election campaigns. They developed a finely tuned approach to profiling voters by using a series of criteria such as the magazines they subscribe to, the liquor they drink and their answers to surveys with loaded questions intended to reveal biases. An integral part of this process involved breaking down the population into subcategories--rather than looking at whether precincts customarily vote for a specific party--and directing targeted messages to them, as well as exposing different population clusters to different messages in order to scientifically determine response patterns. This enables an election campaign to efficiently micromanage get-out-the-vote operations in order to focus on the most likely voters for its candidate. Issenberg illuminates how modern elections exploit marginal advantages, but the narrative becomes scattered at times as the author jumps around from point to point.
From the Publisher
“Indispensable. . . . Issenberg has a firm grounding in the political universe. . . . [He] paints his insurgents in heroic terms, putting the spotlight on campaign warriors few of us have ever heard of. . . . [The Victory Lab is] a magical mystery tour of contemporary campaigns. By the end, a lot of the mystery will become clear, and you’ll know a whole lot more about what’s behind those calls and letters jamming your phone lines and mailboxes.” —Jeff Greenfield, The Washington Post

“[The Victory Lab] traces an under-reported element of the evolution of campaign tactics over nearly a half-century in an unusually accessible and engaging manner. . . . A timely, rare, and valuable attempt to unveil the innovations revolutionizing campaign politics.” —The New Republic

“Enlightening.” —The New Yorker

“A magnificently reported and wonderfully written book, full of eye-opening revelations and a colorful cast of characters whose groundbreaking strategies and tactics have injected 21st-century science into politics and changed it forever in the process. The Victory Lab is essential for anyone who wants to understand what really goes on along the campaign trail—and a delight for those who simply enjoy a terrific read.” —John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, authors of Game Change

“Sasha Issenberg cracks open the secretive realm of modern campaigns, revealing a revolution that is influencing not only who wins elections but also the fate of the nation.  This is a terrific and important book.” —David Grann, author of The Lost City of Z

“Sasha Issenberg is our most acute observer of the modern political campaign. With vivid portraiture and crystal-clear prose, he takes us beyond the charge-and-counter-charge, the rallies and stump speeches, to show us the hidden persuaders. This is the politics you'll never see on the nightly news.” —Richard Ben Cramer, author of What it Takes

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307954794
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/11/2012
  • Pages: 368
  • Product dimensions: 6.60 (w) x 9.26 (h) x 1.18 (d)

Meet the Author

Sasha Issenberg is a columnist for Slate and the Washington correspondent for Monocle.  He covered the 2008 election as a national political correspondent for The Boston Globe, and his work has also appeared in New York, The Atlantic, and The New York Times Magazine.  His first book, The Sushi Economy, was published in 2007.

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Table of Contents

Contents
 
 
Prologue: How to Win an Election Without Anyone Knowing
1. Blinded by Political Science
2. A Game of Margins
3. The New Haven Experiments
4. The Two Percent Solution
5. "You Mean You Don't Do This in Politics?"
6. Geeks Versus the Gurus
7. When Shame Pays a House Call
8. Showdown at the Oasis
9. Models and the Matrix
10. The Soul of a New Machine
Epilogue: Pushing the Envelope
 
Acknowledgments
Notes
Index
 
 
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Customer Reviews

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