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.)
“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
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.