Victory Lab by Issenberg

Can it really be that a simple mailer from a PAC to just a few thousand – or even hundred – citizens and they’ll vote? More than that: they’ll vote how you want them to? Apparently it is because it worked in the 2010 elections. How? That’s what this book is about. Kinda.

The Victory Lab
The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns
By Sasha Issenberg
Crown
September 2012

The author starts with the tantalizing stories of election campaign strategies then detours to a history of campaign psychology and the use of quantifiable data and statistics. Going back a hundred years he treats history buffs to a story that most of us have never heard of. While interesting, the reader who was hooked by the intriguing campaign letter at the start of the book (read: me) is soon bogging down in a landslide of facts and figures.

Later in the book, if you can get there, you’ll find how campaigns use social and analytical sciences to help drive voters – the right voters – to the polls for your candidate. The behind the scenes stuff that was hinted at in the opening pages and also the title (“secret science”) never really materializes.

Some have likened the techniques chronicled in this book with Moneyball. The problem with Moneyball is that it didn’t work. We have the impression it worked because of the movie with Brad Pitt and the success of one team over a single season. Stats and data point innovations like the ones used by the General Manager for the Atheletics don’t work long term. Where are the Atheletics now? The problem? As soon as a new technique is utilized to success everyone else uses it thereby nullifying the technique and advantage. So a lesson learned should be that we need constant innovation to find that next key data point/ idea that can give us the edge. And in today’s world is this really a secret?

Bottom line: this is a text book of the history of social sciences, analytical data / quantitative methods, and psychology as applied to campaigns. While this is fascinating stuff if you are interested in a history lesson, it really doesn’t fulfill the subtitle’s promise. This isn’t for the casual reader. It doesn’t have secrets or a ton of behind the scenes stories that we would have liked. Go into the book with this understanding and you’re good.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.