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Issenberg, political science journalist, speaks to MC class

Barry McNamara
12/10/2013
Monmouth College political science lecturer Robin Johnson already had his “Campaign Methods” students ahead of the curve by using Sasha Issenberg’s 2012 book “The Victory Lab” in his course.
 
Politico calls Issenberg’s work the “’Moneyball’ for politics,” as it shows how cutting-edge social science and analytics are reshaping the modern political campaign.
 
But Johnson’s students received an added bonus last week when Issenberg joined their class via Skype to discuss some of the ideas from his book.
 
“The Victory Lab” tells the story of how the smartest campaigns, armed with research from behavioral psychology, data-mining and randomized experiments that treat voters as unwitting guinea pigs, now believe they know how voters will cast their ballots, even before the voters decide for themselves. The process is generally referred to as “microtargeting,” and Issenberg’s book chronicles its rise from the late 1970s to the modern campaign.
 
The author elaborated on one method to predict voters’ choices when he answered the question, “What micro-targeting advancements might emerge in future campaigns?”
 
“Through high-quality IP address monitoring, campaigns will put tracking cookies on what they send voters and leverage all their offline information. ” he replied.
 
That all has a very “Big Brother is watching you,” feel to it, but Issenberg said it continues a trend of political science “only recently opening itself up to learning from other disciplines.”
 
Issenberg said he “stumbled into” what he called the “geek subculture of micro-targeting techniques” while covering politics in Philadelphia in 2004. While campaigns wouldn’t let reporters like Issenberg witness such behind-the-scenes activities prepping for a debate, they allowed him to tag along with canvassers knocking on doors or with campaign workers staffing a phone bank.
 
“I really developed a curiosity to understand how ground-level, street-level politics work,” he said.
 
When writing his book, he said, he tried to “let readers understand what the state of the art would be for the 2012 campaign, without focusing on the specific candidates. “
 
The result was a book that drew comparisons to Michael Lewis’ “Moneyball,” which shed new light on the way professional baseball teams are constructed through sabermetrics, or empirical data analysis.
 
Said Johnson, who regularly brings high-profile political figures to campus to speak to his class, either in person or via Skype, “This type of campaigning could really make a diference in a close race. The big turnout of support for President Obama in 2012 in battleground states was due to this type of campaigning.”