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The Gamble: Choice and Chance in the 2012 Presidential Election Hardcover – September 15, 2013


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (September 15, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691156883
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691156880
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #22,214 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

Honorable Mention for the 2013 PROSE Award in Government & Politics, Association of American Publishers

"Sides and Vavreck offer a detailed, quantified description of the battlefield--an effort to provide political science insight in real time."--David Lauter, Los Angeles Times/Jacket Copy blog

"In The Gamble, two super-smart thinkers lay out moneyball politics for anyone to understand."--Gregg Easterbrook, ESPN.com

"Good, sane tome on how the fundamentals matter."--Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution

"A work of real originality and depth. In places it extends existing work and does so with care and sophistication. In other places it breaks new ground, especially with analyses of the interplay between the media and popular references and perceptions."--Richard Johnston, Forum

"Sides and Vavreck's book is an overdue corrective. They weren't embedded in a campaign or buddies with top strategists. They don't usher you inside the room. But they have something that campaign reporters lack: data. Lots and lots and lots of it. . . . Underpinning their real-time information are decades of supporting political-science data and theory. The result is that while most election narratives track the inputs of the campaign, Sides and Vavreck track the outputs. . . . There's no better book for understanding it--and the political structures that will continue shaping U.S. elections in 2016 and beyond--than The Gamble. For campaign journalism, the book is a game-changer."--Ezra Klein, Bloomberg View

"The Gamble reveals how few 'breaking' developments in presidential campaigns (the rules are different for your local freeholder race, with its scant media coverage) can actually move the numbers. Pry out the secrets, read the data, and you can ignore the rest of the clattering B.S. machine that is the modern presidential election."--David Weigel, Slate

"With the most comprehensive and demanding analytics of a wide array of data, Sides and Vavreck cut through many of the myths of the 2012 campaign. . . . Reading The Gamble, I'm pulled in two directions. There is an excitement that comes with the clarity of very smart and skilled professionals working through data and presenting an overwhelmingly compelling case. That's balanced with a maddening sense of frustration that so much blood, sweat, tears, and treasure was put into an endeavor that was likely predetermined by forces out of anyone's control. . . . Read [it]. You'll be glad you did."--Stuart Stevens, Daily Beast

"The discounting of campaign drama has more recently been taken to a new level by political scientists John Sides and Lynn Vavreck in The Gamble, which might have been subtitled Nothing to See Here, Folks. . . . Sides and Vavreck take the provocative but stimulating route of considering every explanation of the outcome other than the 'fundamentals' (basically, the power of incumbency and acceptably positive economic trends and conditions) and exploding each with varying quantities of empirical dynamite."--Ed Kilgore, Washington Monthly

"Without a doubt the most provocative book is The Gamble by Sides and Vavreck."--Ed Kilgore, Washington Monthly

"A necessary corrective to the personality-driven and hyperventilating accounts of presidential campaigns driven by a news media out to sell half-baked narratives. . . . Eminently readable."--Rick Hasen, Slate

"The Gamble is political analysis done properly, a serious challenge to journalists and pundits. And it suggests that the politics that works is politics done properly, that produces real improvements for people in their daily lives."--Daniel Finkelstein, The Times

"Probably the most successful attempt to integrate political science and narrative to date. . . . If you really want to understand the 2012 elections, you should rely on The Gamble."--Sean Trende, Real Clear Books

"What really mattered in last year's elections? George Washington University professor John Sides and UCLA professor Lynn Vavreck, in a remarkably fast turnaround for an academic work, applied social science to the developments of last year's presidential election in The Gamble. It turns out that the events journalists described in real time (including this one) weren't as important as they were made out to be. And Sides and Vavreck provide an important reality check that observers should heed before the daily doings of 2016 consume us all."--Steven Shepard, National Journal

"The Gamble is a mine of information about why the result of the election was apparent to said psephologists as far back as November 2011. . . . This is a scientific book. As the publication blurb states, 'other books may tell you what the candidates did and why, but this book tells you whether what they did actually mattered.' In that respect The Gamble pays off."--Simon Burns, MP, Total Politics

From the Inside Flap

"Conventional campaign books portray a fantasy world shaped by brilliant strategists and dramatic events. Sides and Vavreck have invented a new genre--in-the-moment electoral analysis grounded in first-rate political science. Read their book to understand why Barack Obama was reelected, and get your fantasy fix from Game of Thrones."--Larry M. Bartels, author of Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age

"In their lively and insightful account of what really happened in the 2012 presidential campaign, Sides and Vavreck replace wild conjecture about gaffes and undecided voters with hard data and broad context. If you want to understand the dynamics of presidential campaigns, turn off the cable shows and read this book."--Alan S. Gerber, Yale University

"Sides and Vavreck have invented an important new genre of campaign book, perfect for our age of accelerated media. Observers of American politics will relish The Gamble for its fresh research and authoritative analysis, even if my fellow journalists resent it for demonstrating how often we got the story wrong."--Sasha Issenberg, author of The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns

"John Sides and Lynn Vavreck have done something remarkable: They've managed to not just report on the 2012 election in real time, but research it in real time, too. They've solved the problem that bedevils those of us in journalism: How to actually know what you're talking about when you're talking about something as fluid and fast-moving as a presidential election. This book should change how we cover campaigns."--Ezra Klein, columnist, The Washington Post

"Sides and Vavreck have done more to bridge the worlds of campaign reporting and political science than any other academics working today. The Gamble, their penetrating and accessible study of the 2012 presidential election, is mandatory reading for anyone who cares about American politics."--Ryan Lizza, Washington Correspondent, The New Yorker

"The 2012 election was when 'Moneyball' defeated 'Game Change'--and Sides and Vavreck explain why political scientists and number-crunchers were able to forecast the results well in advance, while the conventional wisdom was so often wrong. The Gamble is crisply written, comprehensively researched, and carefully argued. It provides the definitive account of what really happened and what really mattered in the campaign."--Nate Silver, author of The Signal and the Noise


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Customer Reviews

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Really good analysis of election.
Amazon Customer
The analysis is solid but the book consistently contradicts itself and can be difficult to read at times.
James
This is a great book for a detail-minded political junkie.
Jill Meyer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Curtis D. Frye on September 30, 2013
Format: Hardcover
The popular media covers U.S. presidential campaigns like announcers calling a horse race, highlighting every move, nuance, and setback as if it could determine the winner. Why? Because not doing so would give viewers tacit permission to watch something else, drive down the networks' ratings, and cost them advertising dollars. One journalist from Mother Jones identified 68 unique events the press labeled "game changers." Were they, or was it just meaningless hype?

Approach

In The Gamble: Choice and Chance in the 2012 Presidential Election, authors John Sides and Lynn Vavreck analyze the race's twists and turns in measured tones, emphasizing the role "the fundamentals" (especially the economy) play in presidential elections. Sides is associate professor of political science at George Washington University and the coauthor of Campaigns and Elections. He cofounded and contributes to The Monkey Cage, a politics blog. Vavreck is associate professor of political science and communications at UCLA. As academics, they had to strike a balance between writing for a general audience versus writing for an academic audience.

Books without sufficient analytical rigor might not be considered during tenure evaluations, so the authors took a bit of a risk by writing mainly for laymen. I thought they struck a clever and useful balance by dividing the book into two sections: commentary text, where the authors summarize their findings in the main body of the book; and appendixes that present their data and analyses in more depth. The main text contains plenty of facts and figures, but the appendices extend the analysis by including summary statistics (such as standard deviation and standard error) and other measures of interest to professional academics.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Eric Mayforth on December 26, 2013
Format: Hardcover
We live in an era of 24-hour cable news and instant news via the Internet. Pundits and journalists are more likely than ever to assert that even minor events during presidential campaigns are "game-changers" that will decide the contest. But in "The Gamble," authors John Sides and Lynn Vavreck demonstrate that most elections are quite stable, proceeding according to the underlying fundamentals of campaigns that to a great extent are baked in the cake many months before voters head to the polls.

The authors take a "Moneyball" approach to primaries and general elections, describing what does and does not move votes and using many tables, charts, graphs, and scatter plots to illustrate their assertions. Sides and Vavreck rightly note that conditions in the country matter infinitely more to the outcome of elections than do campaign tactics, but they may assign a bit too much emphasis to the state of the election-year economy--one can think of exceptions such as 1968, when the economy was churning along but a quagmire in Vietnam, social unrest at home, and a deeply divided party cost the incumbent Democrats the White House.

Sides and Vavreck recount the 2012 Republican primary race, discussing the "invisible primary" that takes place long before Iowa and New Hampshire and the role of endorsements of candidates by party leaders--I never really thought that such endorsements mattered much, but the authors look at history to show what having a great number of endorsements tends to predict for a candidate. They also note that primaries operate according to fundamentals just as general elections do.
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17 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Jill Meyer TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 17, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
There are many graphs and charts in John Sides and Lynn Vavreck's new book about the 2012 Presidential election,"The Gamble", but to me the most interesting one was a map on page 217. It gave the locations of the Obama and Romney campaign field offices. It shows where the offices were concentrated - and where they were not. The map is in the chapter talking about the much-vaulted "Obama Ground Game", first developed in the 2008 election and kept around for 2012. Obama did have many more field offices than Romney, but the authors didn't think the work they did in contacting potential Obama voters and making sure they went to the polls was really a critical difference in Obama's victory. Okay, well, if not the "ground game", then what was helpful in Obama's victory?

Was it Romney's "47%" remark? The number of ads the Obama campaign put on TV in the battle-ground states? The almost flawless Democratic convention? Obama's bouncing back in the last two debates? The fact that the US economy, while not exactly booming, was at least ticking upwards? Um, no.

And what were the reasons behind Romney's loss? His Mormon religion? The "47%" remarks? His perceived business practices and lack of divulging more than 2 years of his tax returns? His stiff personality? A lack of affection and trust of him by the Republican base. Um, no. "No", because the authors really don't pinpoint a reason for one man's victory at the polls and another man's defeat. Oh, maybe "Chicago's" decision to "front-load" their ads - airing them early in the summer instead of waiting til the end of the campaign - which might have helped "define" Mitt Romney. But then the authors point out that most watchers of the ads were already interested in the race and politics in general, so maybe that wasn't it.
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