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The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns
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The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns

3.8  ·  Rating Details ·  1,051 Ratings  ·  117 Reviews
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, journ
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published September 11th 2012 by Crown (first published January 1st 2012)
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Jan 18, 2013 Carl rated it it was ok
I read this book as part of a book discussion group with political activists and the book was unpopular for a number of reasons.

1. It doesn't have much of anything that's useful if you're in politics at the local level.

2. There are way too many "characters". People are introduced in every chapter and it's just too many to keep track of.

3. The author has an annoying way of describing people and places when there's no need to describe them. It's a stylistic thing that draws attention to itself.

Sébastien Belliveau
A very interesting read. Even more so for people who have worked or are involved in politics, as it will certainly have them look back on their past work with a completely different point of view.

The basic premise of The Victory Lab rests on the calculation made to differentiate successful election practices from unsuccessful ones. Basically, the way many people currently make their evaluations is as such: did your candidate win? If so, whatever you did worked and should be repeated. Did your ca
Dec 11, 2012 Melissa rated it it was ok
Didn't care for this book at all. Was frequently impatient with the writing style. Felt his propensity for describing his character's hair style in the first 2/3s of the book to be a little off-putting; after he got past the two women operatives he talked about (one Dem, one Rep) he stopped the practice. Uh-Huh. Also some detailed descriptions of campuses I could have lived without. And a random description of a bus route in Akron Ohio that was meant to be emblematic but was ... dull. Perhaps ...more
Mickey Hoffman
Sep 20, 2012 Mickey Hoffman rated it it was ok
This book turned out to be as much a collection of biographies as an explanation of research and practices that lead to winning campaigns. And I'm not that interested in the lives of the various political scientists and politicians.
Oct 31, 2012 Dan rated it really liked it
This blows my mind.

When an election is close, the race has very little to do with issues. You win with two strategies: convert swing voters to your side, and get your likely voters to the polls. But those two simple strategies lead to some fascinating conclusions.

One, is that there is no such thing as privacy, and the campaigns know everything about you already. They probably can tell who you're going to vote for before you've even decided. Scared yet?

I live in the reddest of red states, so the
Rob Kitchin
Nov 25, 2012 Rob Kitchin rated it really liked it
In The Victory Lab, Issenberg charts the use of scientific methods in the practice of electioneering in US politics. What’s fascinating about his account is that up until very recently there was very little science behind how elections were conducted, and there’s been a noticeable disconnect between political science and the electioneers. The strategy was simply one of blanket advertising across different media, mail shots, debates, mudslinging and rallies. There was little attempt to ...more
Oct 05, 2012 Mary rated it liked it
While volunteering for the Obama campaign in 2008, I wondered where that seemingly endless stream of names and phone numbers of potential supporters was coming from. Issenberg's book partially answers my question, although the data-driven Obama campaign--quite obviously the culmination of the story--doesn't come up until nearly 250 pages into the work. My biggest complaint about the book is that its main characters--all of the behind-the-scenes political scientists and data people who have ...more
Oct 07, 2012 Cheryl rated it liked it
I have to admit that I do not follow the elections that closely. However, I do try to educate myself on the primary candidates and what they stand for, so that I can make my vote really count. This is what intrigued me about this book. I know that all of the candidates use some sort of tactic to win over the voters but I don’t really pay attention to what type.

Mr. Issenberg really takes the time to break down all the different ways that the candidates and not just the current ones but all the p
Kate McCarthy
Nov 19, 2012 Kate McCarthy rated it really liked it
Better than a campaign handbook that tells you the best practices for campaigning, the Victory Lab takes you on a narrative journey of market testing and behavioral studies to inform campaign strategy, ultimately multi-channel micro-targeting.

I love learning the narrative of how and why different campaign strategies emerged, and the stories of the wins and losses. While the level of detail is rich and interesting, I was still taken aback in Chapter 3 when we started our third new course of histo
This is a great book. It is filled with amazing insider details about every big campaign in the last forty years. It will have you grinning and shaking your head at some of the strategy that various campaign analysts came up with.The author has obtained amazing access. This history familiarizes the reader with the thought process behind the decisions that campaigns make to identify & motivate likely voters.
The second half of the book lays out in detail the sophisticatted data analysis emplo
Jan 25, 2013 Ben rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Once it gets past some overly long history of the political science in the field dating back to the early parts of the last century, it gets pretty interesting. The discussion of the randomized experiments does a nice job conveying goals and ideas in layman's terms. What's interesting though is so much of the book focuses on tricks used to get people to vote, almost none of which involve a specific candidate. That raises the question of how much does the candidate even matter? Or put another ...more
Ralphie Nader
Oct 08, 2012 Ralphie Nader rated it it was ok
I thought this was a great and important subject to cover, but I left the book confused about how "the science" of winning of campaigns works today. Maybe this is just the reality of the subject, but I felt that while the author did a good job at covering individuals and their individual studies/tests, he didn't provide the reader with the broader trends and current best practices of today's cutting edge campaigns.

I would have liked to see a more general look on how science and data are used by
Julian Haigh
Feb 02, 2013 Julian Haigh rated it liked it
This book was very personal for me. I created a business focused on volunteer mobilization after reading Green and Gerber's "Get out the Vote!" (an absolute must if you're a campaigner) and have briefly connected with Hal Malchow. It's a frustrating industry, and to hear these brave souls fighting the good fight for more effective campaigns that reach out an connect with people... argghhh... why is it such a difficult message to get across?

Written by a journalist, it's a nice narrative account a
Brigitta Johnson
Nov 30, 2013 Brigitta Johnson rated it really liked it
Probably only going to be interesting to people in politics - and I truly mean politics not policy. Messaging, strategy, emerging micro trends and he means we use to convey those messages etc. that being said I really appreciated their explanation of he scholarly works behind the decisions (or lack there of). Really outlines how were still going on our gut because it's virtually impossible to do in theater experiments.
John Spillane
Dec 08, 2013 John Spillane rated it really liked it
Shelves: audiobooked
Whelp, Obama is going to win, sorry for calling the race, but even before that last bit about Romney falling in the polls, and the first debate it would seem that with the data mining techniques described herein the Dems will get a Daly-esque turnout percentage and even if the Repubs had all the same techniques their people are already voting.

If you don't love the idea of politics this is three stars, and "Moneyball for Politics" is way to much hype, but I was entertained.
Warwick Chapman
Nov 01, 2016 Warwick Chapman rated it it was amazing
A gripping tour of the many approaches to campaigning and testing campaigns in the US.
Nishant Pappireddi
A bit sadder to read after the 2016 election, but still good!
Steven Lee
Mar 18, 2015 Steven Lee rated it liked it
Following Barack Obama’s surprising victory in the Iowa Caucuses in 2008 a great deal has been made about how exactly the Obama team managed to pull it off. The campaign’s impressive work in the 2008 and 2012 presidential election has solidified this opinion that they have managed to do something special and win over voters. Issenberg in his book The Victory Lab gives us a tiny peak into how.

This is the premise that I do not doubt attracts a majority of the readers of The Victory Lab to the text
Aug 03, 2012 Michael rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics, science
The Victory Lab is about how politicians have historically won their campaigns. Although the book covers the gubernatorial campaigns of Mitt Romney and Rick Perry, and culminates with the successful presidential campaigns of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, the political figures we all know and recognize merely make cameos throughout the book. The real stars here are the data-driven consultants who are changing the way elections are won. The main idea of this book is that for most of the 20th ...more
Dec 04, 2013 Bookworm rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics, election
Issenberg is an awful, terrible writer. I so desperately wanted to like this book and in theory really should have: discussion of how data can drive elections. A history of political polling from its humble beginnings to the machine of the Obama campaigns. And yet there was something just completely missing.

The book traces political polling from it's embryonic beginnings in the early 20th century to an increasingly detailed process that helps shape how campaigns message, speak to voters, scrabbl
Jacob Raymond
Nov 22, 2016 Jacob Raymond rated it did not like it
Shelves: couldn-t-finish
A real snore fest. While the subject is intriguing, the writing is extremely dull and unengaging. It is evident from the first page that Issenberg is a journalist, as he adopts a journalist tone that, while is perfect for a news article/magazine story, gets annoying after a few pages. The writing is also extremely confusing: I had no idea, most of the time, what era the chapter was set in, and too many people were introduced only to be tossed aside a few lines later.
Michael Griswold
Nov 22, 2012 Michael Griswold rated it liked it
With election season in full swing, Sasha Issenburg has written a timely and interesting book on an alleged secret science of winning campaigns. When one actually sits down and reads the book however, they don't discover a magic formula for winning campaigns, but more a thought provoking discussion of a question that has bedeviled political scientists for generations: "How do we get more people to vote"?

Victory Lab covers a series of evolutions both within political science and political campaig
Meg - A Bookish Affair
We're only a couple of months away from the elections here in the United States (this cannot come soon enough; I live in Maryland and we're being bombarded with nasty commercials because of Virginia being a battleground state... sigh). Anyhow, I thought that this might be an appropriate book for the election season.

This book gets into the nitty,gritty of ways that campaign planners and pollster can figure out how to win elections. It's an interesting study to say the least. I was really surpris
Sep 16, 2012 Robin rated it liked it
Shelves: politics
Most books about politics are books about politicians. Readable books about the practicalities of campaigning are rare - most are written by and for campaigners - and so The Victory Lab, which charts the application of data mining and randomised field trials to US politics, is well worth a read.

The Victory Lab is at its best in charting the unexpected results of using statistics in a political campaign. Does sending the candidate on the road make a difference? Yes. Mailers exhorting people to vo
Oct 26, 2012 Andrew rated it really liked it
One-Minute Review

With the final Presidential debate of this year’s American election complete, The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns is a timely read. Reviewers have been entirely accurate in describing it as the Moneyball of politics. The author, Sasha Issenberg, goes into the slightly nerdy backrooms (which often turn out to be staffed by academics more interested in their theses than political points) of both major American political parties to examine how they identify a
Ryan G
Jan 30, 2013 Ryan G rated it liked it
Shelves: no-longer-own
I don't often have the experience of reading a book about politics that scares the hell out of me, and fascinates me at the same time. There isn't a lot about politics that I find scary, well not that I want to say on here. I know some of my blog readers have very differing political views, so I will leave that for Facebook. The mechanics of politics, don't normally install a sense of doom in me in quite the same way as the idea of certain people holding office. Now I'm not saying The Victory ...more
Michael Quinn
Feb 02, 2013 Michael Quinn rated it really liked it
While it does not succeed in any way as a technical guide (as many reviews below have pointed out), VL is a nice, brief history of how databased management has now become the norm in campaigning. For people interested in the latter, Issenberg has an extensive notes section. Among those books referenced, Get Out the Vote! and Mobilization Tactics are obviously a first place to turn.

That side, Issenberg's book has many merits of its own. The general story that it tries to tell, the dramatic shift
Aug 02, 2016 Chris rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics
"The Victory Lab" (TVL) boldly offers a new answer to the timeless question of what does it take to become President of the United States. TVL's answer is that, contra to much of the punditry that fills mainstream media outlets, it takes a mastery of data. The Obama campaigns of 2008 and 2012 are shown to be the high-point of a multi-decade movement within the worlds of academic political science and professional political practice to bring statistical analytical methods to bear on the central ...more
Feb 08, 2013 John rated it really liked it
This book is first and foremost a history of the proliferation of quantitative empirical techniques for targeting voters by political campaigns. It is also a kind of history of the quantification of political science, and, to a limited extent, a history of political science in general— or at least the subfield of American politics. Issenberg connects the development of these techniques to fundamental questions in political science like: why do people vote? He describes the interplay of academic, ...more
Elizabeth Moeller
The reason that I have always been interested in politics is because of the ideas behind the political contests. I want to ensure that the person who is elected to whatever position they are running for holds the same values and concerns that I do. Such idealism is not what this book is about. It is, as one of the back of the book blurbs says, Moneyball for politics. The author examines the various techniques that both Democrats and Republicans have come up with, based on social science and ...more
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“Our campaigns have not grown more humanistic because our candidates are more benevolent or their policy concerns more salient. In fact, over the last decade, public confidence in institutions-- big business, the church, media, government-- has declined dramatically. The political conversation has privileged the nasty and trivial. Yet during that period, election seasons have awakened with a new culture of volunteer activity. This cannot be credited to a politics inspiring people to hand over their time but rather to campaign, newly alert to the irreplaceable value of a human touch, seeking it out. Finally campaigns are learning to quantify the ineffable—the value of a neighbor's knock, of a stranger's call, the delicate condition of being undecided-- and isolate the moment where a behavior can be changed, or a heart won. Campaigns have started treating voters like people again.” 2 likes
“The people who explain politics for a living – the politicians themselves, their advisers, the media who cover them – love to reach conclusions like this one. Elections are decided by charismatic personalities, strategic maneuvers, the power of rhetoric, the zeitgeist of the political moment. The explainers cloak themselves in loose-fitting theories because they offer a narrative comfort, unlike the more honest acknowledgment that elections hinge on the motivations of millions of individual human beings and their messy, illogical, and often unknowable psychologies.” 2 likes
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