The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library in Ann Arbor, Michigan was pleased to welcome Sasha Issenberg. A graduate of Swarthmore College, Issenberg is now a columnist for Slate and Washington Correspondent for Manacle where he covers a variety of subjects. He has been featured in George, The New York Times Magazine, Washington Monthly, and The Atlantic. He appeared to discuss his second book, "The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns".
Issenberg covered his first Presidential Campaign for the Boston Globe in 2008. Issenberg felt his job was to try and make sense of the campaign and the candidates while writing about what they said and how they were saying it. He found himself trying to distill the election down to one “big thing”, a single contrast between the candidates, an issue, etc. He realized afterwards that he did not fully understand the extent to which reporters had only seen a glimpse of the campaign with these proverbial “blinders” on.
What was truly taking place at election headquarters really opened Issenberg’s eyes. Two major campaign integrations had taken place. First, there was a departure from the political scientists running the “behind the scenes” show. Second, consultants from the corporate-commercial world and scholars of academia and social sciences were being brought in to better comprehend the electorate and get more votes.
The story of “The Victory Lab” speaks to these innovations that fundamentally changed the running of campaigns forever and how it evolved into the “new mechanics of voting in the 21st century”. Expounded in the book is how campaigns cease to focus on “one big thing”, but rather isolate lots of little things in the hopes of moving them in the desired direction. For a long time, a very limited “voter profile” was based on registration information that campaigns had to work with. The evolution of technology allowed for a more in-depth extrapolation about voters and how they live. A breakthrough occurred during the 2000 campaign. Political leaders looked to the corporate world and how successful they were at knowing who their customers and potential customers were. This began the first database accumulation where political folks collected info from commercial houses and linked them up with public voter data.
Issenberg also explained breakthroughs in academia that caught the attention of the political world. A famous experiment conducted by Yale’s Don Green and Alan Gerber, as well as Mark Grebner of East Lansing, Michigan. They disproved the old notion that voters turned out as a result of “weighing out” the personal benefits of voting, showing it was more an issue of social conformity. Successful experiments, like the above mentioned, allow for more appropriate ways of “touching” the electorate and provided a more accurate reason for why people vote. It also demonstrated more effective ways to specifically target voters to try and persuade them to agree with a particular candidate.