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The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns [Kindle Edition]

Sasha Issenberg
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (80 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $15.00
Kindle Price: $10.99
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Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

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rocking the war room and re-engineering a high-stakes industry previously run on little more than gut instinct and outdated assumptions.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. 

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

From political reporter Issenberg comes this very interesting look at the way political consultants and professional vote-getters manipulate people into casting their votes for certain candidates. Although the field has seen some serious innovations over the years—computer models, highly detailed research tools, the use of cutting-edge behavioral psychology to predict how voters will mark their ballots, and more—it’s not a new endeavor. As far back as the 1920s, people like political scientist Harold Foote Gosnell, frustrated by his profession’s inability to explain why people voted the way they did, began looking for new tools to understand and predict voter behavior. By the mid–1940s, social psychologist Angus Campbell was developing “the first systematic effort to explain how presidential elections were decided,” including a massive survey that was the forerunner of the American National Election Studies, a key tool in a field that, today, is a $6 billion-a-year industry. Given its lively subject matter, its equally lively prose, and its timely release—it will hit the shelves two months before Americans go to the polls—this is pretty much guaranteed to generate high interest among readers. --David Pitt


“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

Product Details

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
77 of 82 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars No secrets, some good science August 10, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I basically agree with previous reviewers Paul Tognetti and Dan Bobinski that this book presents some interesting research but is too long and repetitious. However my main complaint is different. This book does not reveal, as the subtitle claims, "The secret science of winning campaigns." The author appears to have had a preconceived storyline, the Moneyball of politics, which doesn't fit the facts. Unfortunately, this framing causes the author to miss a much more interesting and important story contained in this material.

The Victory Lab traces a nearly century-long academic quest that began with a simple question: Why do some people not vote? Extensive laboratory and field research has thrown some fascinating light on this question, which goes to the heart of what democracy means. Which people vote affects more than the result of an election, it affects group identities and how people feel about the result and how the elected officials act, which in turn set the political environment for the next election, and thereby is an essential determinant of the nature of civil society. The most interesting thinkers profiled in the book deal with these issues in their full complexity.

Some of the theory and experimental data developed in this quest might be useful for influencing close elections. This is the main focus of the book, which leads the author to spend too much time on shallow thinkers with narrow partisan (or in some cases merely financial) goals. Yes, it's impressive how much you can influence people's decision whether to vote through simple micro-targeted threats, bribes and even mere contacts. But it's not clear that these are cost-effective ways to influence elections.
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42 of 47 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Data-Driven Political Campaigns August 19, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Sasha Issenberg's book The Victory Lab is well written and, for the most part, quite interesting. It is, however, a good deal longer than need be to tell its story. This is due to the author's interest in not only explaining recent developments in mounting effective political campaigns, but also giving a good deal of attention to the history of such efforts, including background on the principal participants over the last forty years. I had not expected the historical material in a book subtitled "The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns," and it sometimes gets in the way of a streamlined presentation of technical issues. The book presupposes little or no knowledge of research design, statistics, or measurement theory. That's all to the good, but if the text included less chatty historical coverage and more discussion of the fundamentals of pertinent quantitative techniques, The Victory Lab would be a more satisfying read.

The two basic themes that undergird Issenberg's account are micro-targeting of prospective voters and random assignment of treatment and control status to permit interpretable comparisons. Micro-targeting means gaining access to individuals and small, homogeneous groups rather than using data aggregated to the precinct, county, or other geographical level. Micro-targeting enables political analysts and operatives to identify conveniently small groups that do not correspond to pre-drawn geographical or administrative boundaries and to use their peculiar characteristics to focus get-out-the-vote campaigns and messages tailored to enhance the appeal of a specific candidate. The shopworn,conventional, broad-brush alternative is to use existing data sets that aggregate measures to a higher level, such as the county.
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The tug-of-war between the geeks and the gurus. July 31, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
My, how times have changed! In years gone by political campaigns hoped to drum up support utilizing the traditional methods of radio and television ads, direct mail and polling. This was the approach favored by those whom author Sasha Issenberg dubs "the gurus". According to Issenberg "the gurus were the celebrated political wise men whose practices had become the political default, thanks to their success serving up a cocktail of lore and myth, anecdote and inertia that could so thoroughly intoxicate the candidates who paid their bills." But in the view of a growing number of political scientists these methods were rapidly becoming outdated due to the advent of an array of exciting new technologies. All of a sudden it was possible to identify "undecided" voters who might be sympathetic to your candidate and to "nudge" non-voters as well. These innovative new get-out-the vote (GOTV)strategies being championed by the so-called "geeks" who worked quietly behind the scenes would pose a direct threat to the entrenched and high-profile political consultants. This ongoing battle between the "geeks" and the "gurus" is the story Sasha Issenberg tells in "The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns". I had very high hopes for this book when I plucked it off the Amazon Vine. But for reasons that I will discuss shortly I came away a bit disappointed.

Perhaps the most important lesson that campaigns have learned from the political scientists is that finding small, refined batches of voters really matters. This is a strategy that is very cost effective and runs counter to the traditional radio and television buys and newspaper ads favored by the consultants.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Must read
This is a must read for anyone interested in campaigns. I use it for my campaigns and elections course and students always note in their reviews that it was one of the best books... Read more
Published 28 days ago by Phillip J. Ardoin
5.0 out of 5 stars Campaign metrics and hoe they can help you change the wotld
Well written methodically put together work. It outlines the complex world of campaign measurement and management. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Peter Allen
3.0 out of 5 stars I had high expectations
As a former computer professional and one with an interest in BI and data mining, I found this book
to border on boring with little insight being given to the various... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Darryl E. Johns
5.0 out of 5 stars great book
this is an important book. Shows you the next revolution in how political campaigns are run in the modern digital age. one more thing the internet has revolutionized
Published 6 months ago by Macgyver
3.0 out of 5 stars The Power of Numbers
Politics has evolved over the last 50 years from a spray and pray approach to campaigning to a much more data and demographically driven approach. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Edward J. Barton
5.0 out of 5 stars Good read
Very interesting book about polling, elections and get out the vote efforts. You are taken behind the scenes in order to understands what campaigns are trying to do. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Stephen Trowbridge
5.0 out of 5 stars Should be read by all political science undergrads
Excellent study of the co-evolution of behavioral research and political campaigning. Would recommend to anyone interested in understanding the dynamics of modern American... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Amazon Customer
3.0 out of 5 stars Uninspired and forgettable
A great deal has been made of the extensive and oft-touted superior technology-driven, analytically-supported operations of the last two Obama campaigns. Read more
Published 8 months ago by jtk
4.0 out of 5 stars Turning Politics Into A Science
First, let me stipulate that I am a political junkie. I've worked on campaigns from the local to the federal level. I've worked with challengers and incumbents. Read more
Published 8 months ago by JJ
5.0 out of 5 stars Extremely well-written and incredibly authentic!!
This book really brought a lot of things full circle for me. I dabbled in the 2008 election as a 20 year old (still the best time of my life) and it reminded me of how so much of... Read more
Published 10 months ago by Rance Graham-Bailey
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More About the Author

Sasha Issenberg is the Washington correspondent for Monocle. He covered the 2008 presidential campaign for The Boston Globe as a national political reporter, and has written for The New York Times Magazine, Slate, and George, where he served as a contributing editor. He is the author of The Sushi Economy: Globalization and the Making of a Modern Delicacy, published in 2007.


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