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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

3.79  ·  Rating details ·  1,437 ratings  ·  139 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 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 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 be ...more
Mickey Hoffman
Sep 20, 2012 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. ...more
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 employed
Sep 21, 2012 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 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 scientific ...more
Kate McCarthy
Nov 08, 2012 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
Josh Lindner
Nov 14, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics, marketing
Required reading for anyone who works in politics.
Alex Gruenenfelder
Dec 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is a dense book, filled with data and political science studies. (It took me a bit to get through it, and this was with the assistance of the audiobook.) It goes in circles a lot, around the central question of why people vote. Is it a social decision, or a self-serving one, or a philanthropic one? It's a book that I recommend for campaign operatives, certainly, but it's a bit dry and cyclical for the general reader. If you want to get inside campaign strategy though, definitely consider it ...more
Jul 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
For a research nerd like me this was a riveting read even though it did get bogged down a bit in the huge cast of characters and the minutia of nudges.
Oct 05, 2012 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 devel ...more
Oct 07, 2012 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
Ralphie Nader
Oct 08, 2012 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
Jan 19, 2013 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 way ...more
Julian Haigh
Jan 29, 2013 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
Sep 25, 2012 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.
Brigitta Johnson
Nov 30, 2013 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. ...more
Chris Casey
Jun 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
I don't recall how this book came on my radar, probably just by my scanning shelves at our local library and my adding it to my list of books to pick up sometime. And sometime finally came and I at last checked out a book I ought to have read when it was first published five years ago.

I knew it would catch my interest, when on an initial scan, fanning through the pages, I happened to stop on a page where I was mentioned. When does that ever happen??!! I wasn't mentioned by name, but the referen
Scott Herndon
Jun 01, 2017 rated it it was ok
Overall rather disappointing. Some interesting facts along the way, but very few and very far between. It starts out telling the reader how little science is actually in political science and that most "experts" simply rely on anecdotal evidence to support their views. Unfortunately, the entire book is filled anecdotes from new experts trying to introduce scientific methods and refinement. Instead of 350 pages, this should have been a 40 page college (or high school) paper summarizing a few diff ...more
Doc Opp
Jun 17, 2018 rated it did not like it
This book shouldn't be titled "The secret science of winning campaigns". It should be "personal anecdotes about political consultants who sometimes use science to win campaigns". I'd say about 5% of the book, maybe less, is actually about the science behind voter decision making or Get out the vote efforts. The ratio of personal interest stories to actual science is distressingly poor, to the point where I found myself largely skimming as I didn't care about what the pollster who ran a study was ...more
Bob Anderson
Jan 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
So this is about the evolving nature of campaign strategy for US presidential elections. I read it before Nov 8, and thought it was fascinating. In retrospect, there are a lot of good, applicable, things here, and it would be worth your time to read it for the simple reason that it’s not someone desperately trying to show that they were right all along. Approach it critically, with current sources in mind. You’ve certainly spent a lot of time reading bullshit self-serving “what went wrong?” take ...more
Vincent Solomeno
Nov 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics
"The Victory Lab" was recommended to me shortly after the 2012 American presidential election. Sasha Issenberg presents fact-based portraits of how political campaigns at the local, state, and national levels synthesized academic research to harness the power of data to persuade and turn out targeted voters. For anyone who has read or heard about "big data" and wants to learn more, Mr. Issenberg's book is for you. Given the country's collective experience in the 2016 and 2018 elections, I hope h ...more
Sep 11, 2019 rated it it was ok
The overall narrative is interesting, but I found the style plodding and overly focused on biographies of all the people involved one by one. It also would have benefited from thematic rather than chronological organization, because over the book it goes back and forth between developments in various areas in a way that is confusing.
Patrick "P.C."
Oct 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book changed everything for me. I realized how far behind libraries are in the data and research about understanding the American electorate when thinking about campaigns and elections for libraries. We have none of the data that major campaigns and ballot initiatives do.
Feb 20, 2020 rated it liked it
This book is more of a history of election science than the secret science of winning campaigns. This would be fine if not for the false advertising and that it jumped around in a fast and confusing manner.
Elisabetta Felici
Aug 23, 2020 rated it did not like it
I have found this book un-readable. Couldn't go further than 40 pages.
Even though it is not my first language, I know english very well, but I couldn't tell what the hell I read up until now.
I am a little pissed that I have spent money on it.
Nathan Fewel
Oct 10, 2020 rated it it was ok
About 5% of the book is dedicated to a substantive discussion of the methods that most people who read the book want to learn more about. Peripheral stories, individual anecdotes, and frequent digressions make up the other 95% and add little to no value. Could have been a nice long form article.
Brian Ellison
Jan 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book inspired my Master's Thesis. ...more
Sep 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I read this book during an applied statistics class and it really helped to reinforce principles of statistics.
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Sasha Issenberg is the author of three previous books, on topics ranging from the global sushi business to medical tourism and the science of political campaigns. He covered the 2008 election as a national political reporter in the Washington bureau of The Boston Globe, the 2012 election for Slate, the 2016 election for Bloomberg Politics and Businessweek, and 2020 for The Recount. He is the Washi ...more

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“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.” 3 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.” 2 likes
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