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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

3.75 of 5 stars 3.75  ·  rating details  ·  665 ratings  ·  95 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...more
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published September 11th 2012 by Crown (first published January 1st 2012)
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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...more
Carl
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.

4....more
Melissa
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 be...more
Rob Kitchin
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 scientific...more
Dan
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...more
Cheryl
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...more
Mary
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 devel...more
Kate McCarthy
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...more
Ralphie Nader
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...more
Ben
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 way...more
Julian Haigh
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...more
John Spillane
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.
Brigitta Johnson
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.
Mickey Hoffman
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.
Shai Sachs
A really excellent and engaging book on the history of data management in politics, which, as a bonus, features some fairly compelling characters. As someone who works in the cottage industry that is political data management, I very much appreciated the chance to get some historical context on what I do and who has come before me.

A couple of caveats: this book intermingles the history of data management from the perspective of polling, field organizing, and finance, but these are in fact increa...more
Michael Quinn
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...more
Ryan G
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 La...more
Michael Griswold
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...more
Michael
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 Ce...more
Robin
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...more
Andrew
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 an...more
John
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
Louis
Sasha Issenberg’s The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns explores the evolution of political campaigns—campaigns are increasingly relying on analysis of empirical data at deeper levels of detail than ever before.

Political campaigns have long relied on targeting in some form or another; however, it has gotten more sophisticated. For instance, campaigns had long relied on advertising over a fairly broad areas; it is now possible to target individual voters rather than an entire...more
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...more
Joshua
The Victory Lab is a wonderfully detailed book about the statistical revolution in politics. Issenberg peels back the curtain on finely-tuned election machines which home in on individual voters and determine the best strategy to convince them to vote or to persuade them to side with a particular candidate. It is refreshingly technical, describing the innovations which have allowed such "microtargeting," but it is never terse. The personalities of the subjects take a backseat, and I found some o...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 econ...more
BooksAndTea
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...more
Michael O'shaughnessy
Good piece for people who've never laced up their sneakers and knocked on doors for a political candidate. For people who are familiar with campaigning technique, it offers a good survey but not a whole lot of red meat.

But then again, Moneyball was meant for general audiences, not for talent scouts, so maybe I approached this book all wrong. Still a great history of advertising, and political advertising specifically.
Margaret Sankey
Popular explication of the science of political science, from the early 20th century academic attempts to quantify voter turnout and the efficacy of machine organization to the running arms race between the two major parties to adopt and adapt evolving technologies--direct mail, polling, zip codes, out of state phone banks, data mining, databases and mapping (to the point that ads can be bought on specific bus routes to be seen by a targeted population) and their effect on field work, not to men...more
Stephanie Downard
The Victory Lab is a great compilation of the history of political campaigns and the influence statistics has made on political campaigns. I throughly enjoyed this book. It is not for those who are looking into the secrets of how to boost your campaign numbers nor for those who are interested in the raw data that such research methods can give. However, throughout the book it talks about such books and places to get ideas for campaign research and strategy. I enjoyed learning about how both poli...more
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“Maybe what stopped people from voting wasn't a lack of information about the candidates or a feeling that the outcomes of races didn't matter or a sense that a trip to the polls was inconvenient. What if voting wasn't only a political act, but a social one that took place in a liminal space between the public and private that had never been well-defined to citizens? What if toying with those expectations was key to turning a person into a voter? What if elections were simply less about shaping people's opinions than changing their behaviors?” 1 likes
“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.” 1 likes
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