Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Review of The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns by Sasha Issenberg (Crown, 2012)

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 scientifically measure and evaluate the effectiveness of different approaches, or to segment and target populations.  Drawing on his own experience of a journalist covering elections and interviews with a number of key players, Issenberg provides an account of the rise of data and statistically-driven campaigning in the US, culminating in Obama’s election in 2008.  Because the chapters are arranged by chronology and by particular groups/campaigns, the structure tends to move to-and-fro a little.  That said, the narrative it easy enough to follow, and the text is lively, engaging and informative.  Somewhat oddly, there seems to have been no attempt to learn anything from elections outside of the US, and Issenberg’s narrative barely strays beyond US shores.  Overall, what the book demonstrates is the US elections are now being run like lab-experiments, underpinned by big data and statistical algorithms, and they’re set to follow this approach for the foreseeable future.

1 comment:

pattinase (abbott) said...

Most Americans have no idea there is a world beyond their shores. If you mention the word President, they will always talk about US presidents. Very worrisome.