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 and persuade voters. Since the mid-twentieth century, such consultants have used increasing amounts of data to inform and direct political messaging. Indeed, in a polarized political landscape where victory often falls within the margin of polling error, Issenberg reveals that there is more electoral benefit in identifying, targeting, and motivating supporters than attacking opponents. He takes readers not into the vaunted war-rooms of modern campaigns, but to quiet data centres where social scientists and statisticians argue for smarter ways to talk to individuals. In this, The Victory Lab perhaps holds out hope for a politics of greater civility as old-fashioned door knocking is shown to be more effective than a mud-slinging ad war.
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