Eggheads: The Secret Source of Democratic Campaign Success

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


Sasha Issenberg is the author of The Victory Lab, a book about the increasing use of social science experiments to improve the effectiveness of political campaigns. The first big-name politician to really make use of this was Rick Perry, but since then it’s been almost exclusively a Democratic phenomenon. Dylan Matthews asks why:

ISSENBERG: The reason Perry developed that partnership is that he made them an unusual offer, which is that they could publish their work. Most campaigns want to keep it proprietary, so the academics who are willing to work with them are often people who are aligned with their political goals, and not necessarily in it for research purposes.

Hmmm. According to Issenberg, Democrats faced a crisis in 2004 that motivated them to figure out how to run their campaigns better. But that’s not all. They also found it pretty easy to find plenty of eager help within academia:

The left has been way better than the right at engaging the political scientists and economists who use these techniques to measure real-world cause and effect. You just have dozens of professors and graduate students who want to work with Democratic campaigns, women’s groups and labor groups, and very little of that on the right.

….The fact that Republicans lost so overwhelmingly in 2008, I think, delayed an awareness of the technical gap between the two sides….For the sake of innovation on the Republican side, the best thing that could happen to them is that they lose narrowly on Tuesday, that the story becomes how Obama and his allies ran a mechanically superior campaign.

….That’s the first step. The second step is finding social scientists who want anything to do with the Republican party in the 21st century, and that probably won’t be solved on Tuesday one way or the other. That’s a bigger cultural problem.

So there really are advantages to being (a) reality-based and (b) non-troglodytes. This is, truly, the revenge of the nerds.

Dear Reader,

This feels like the most important fundraising drive since I've been CEO of Mother Jones, with staggeringly high stakes and so much uncertainty. In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," I try to unpack the reality we all face and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support Mother Jones’ nonprofit journalism: We need to raise $400,000 to help cover the vital reporting projects we have planned, and right now is no time to pull back.

Monika Bauerlein, CEO, Mother Jones

Dear Reader,

This feels like the most important fundraising drive since I've been CEO of Mother Jones, with staggeringly high stakes and so much uncertainty. In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," I try to unpack the reality we all face and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support Mother Jones’ nonprofit journalism: We need to raise $400,000 to help cover the vital reporting projects we have planned, and right now is no time to pull back.

Monika Bauerlein, CEO, Mother Jones

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate