Monday, November 5, 2012

The Victory Lab ~ Sasha Issenberg review

The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns
September 11, 2012
358 pages
add to Goodreads/buy from Book Depo/or Amazon

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rocking the war room and re-engineering a high-stakes industry previously run on little more than gut instinct and outdated assumptions.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

Sasha Issenberg's The Victory Lab is a book looking at - from the very beginning of political science in Chicago until the present day - how campaigns aim, and very often succeed, to know how a person is going to vote before they do so. And without polls.

Issenberg knows a lot about the different methods used by different campaigns and different individuals all across the twentieth and now twenty-first centuries to garner the best possible voter predictions. Whether its education, income, past election participation or even pet ownership, there are people who, apparently, know whether or not it factors into whether or not you're more likely to vote - and, in a given election, for whom. To a degree, of course.

Victory Lab left me interested in some past elections that I will admit to knowing little to nothing about. It likely wasn't the point of the book as many who will read this book are older and, therefore, already familiar with those national elections. I'm not, though, and the things that were mentioned, in reference to how they effected votes, how the strategists used them, left me interested and wanting to know more.

The book also finally told me where - and a bit of the why - all of those (horribly annoying) direct mail campaign flyers that show up in the mailbox in multitude before every election started; and how they've been used in some elections. It was pretty interesting.

I don't know if it was Issenberg's writing, they way that Victory Lab was written, they way the material worked for me or something else but I saw it more as individual case studies when I think I was envisioning seeing something more general, broad. It felt more campaigns and less Campaigns? Yes, they will all be run differently, but it was hard to see that they were all using the same knowledge, if differently.

The book was a bit hard for me to get through, so I may have been expecting more storytelling (even taking into consideration the genre) than there was. There were times when someone would be introduced with something anecdotal, but their introduction used just to bring in another person or place, usually leaving me wondering where the first person had gone.  Victory Lab felt slightly academic, like something you would read for class or a paper.

Victory Lab has a lot of interesting information and facts as well as plenty to think about - with the impending election and beyond. It's one that left me with some things to look into and more knowledge about just how campaigns 'know' who to target and think they know who will be voting for them. The way all of that information was presented didn't quite work for me, but I'm glad I kept with it and know the things.

Rating: 6/10

thank you to Crown for my copy of the book

No matter, a book says, your vote is still up to you - and only you - so tomorrow don't forget to . . . .

1 comment:

  1. This is very interesting. I've never read a book about election campaigns but it sounds interesting, especially since its Election Day!

    Jesse @ Pretty In Fiction


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