For anybody considering a career in politics, No Place for Amateurs
is a thorough description of what goes on behind the scenes. "While candidates are ultimately responsible for their campaigns, there is no way they can compete, let alone win, without professional help," writes Dennis W. Johnson. He ought to know: in addition to working as a campaign consultant himself, Johnson is the associate dean at George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management. On these pages, he describes everything that goes into a campaign, from fundraising to opposition research to handling the media. And he doesn't shy away from details. In a chapter on polling and public opinion, for instance, he describes how "a well-financed statewide campaign" would want to begin with a "benchmark survey" a year before the election, followed by focus groups to "explore in greater depth the responses given in the benchmark survey." Four or five months later would come "trend surveys" to see what impact the campaigns have had on public opinion. Ideas for commercials then would undergo "dial meter analysis" to test their effectiveness. Finally, tracking polls in the final weeks would try to gauge "late trends and movements of public preferences."
Taken as a whole, No Place for Amateurs reads like a how-to guide for campaigns. It never really delivers what it promises in the subtitle--an analysis of how political professionals have come to have such a great role in modern politics--but that's OK, because it does acknowledge their presence and describe what they do. There may, in fact, be a greater need for the book Johnson actually has written, and it must be required reading at his school. It's full of anecdotes, too, which provide real-world examples of how campaigns work. Less effective are Johnson's descriptions of fictional races, although they may help him make key points more sharply than if they were based on real experiences. Political pros often say the best way to learn about campaigns is to work on one. That's probably true, but it might also be a good idea to read this book before taking even that first step. --John J. Miller
From Publishers Weekly
"[T]he race for office has become a race for money"Ain large part because of political consultants, says Johnson. He should know: he's a former top political consultant and now associate dean of George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management. Johnson offers an insider's view of what political consultants do and what the repercussions are for the American democratic system. The consultant's role during a campaign is to leave as little as possible to chance. Consultants monitor public opinion via focus groups and tracking polls and spend hours digging up dirt on the opponent. In this new digital age, real-time campaigning is achievable with cutting-edge rapid-response advertising that can be prepared in advance and ready at a moment's notice to steal the spotlight from the competition. Johnson takes the reader through all the processes of spin doctoring by professional consultantsAat times in overwhelming detailAbut his main message is that the professionalization of campaigning has removed the average citizen from the electoral process. Johnson suggests such alienation is not inevitable, however, and he notes, albeit briefly, ways in which voters might once again be drawn into the process. He concludes that we can ameliorate the influence of professional political consultants, but his bottom line is that high-cost, high-powered political consultants are here to stay. (Feb.) Forecast: There is much historical narrative here that should interest the general reader. But overall, the degree of specificity in the discussion makes this title most apt for academic rather than general readers.
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