Rick Perry and the science of campaigns

Caucus Blog, NY Times:

Sasha Issenberg, a former Boston Globe reporter who has also written for Monocle, Slate, Philadelphia and The New York Times Magazine, has been writing a book about the new science of campaigns, called “The Victory Lab.” It’s scheduled for publication next year.

But given the interest in Rick Perry, the Texas governor and new Republican presidential candidate, the portion of “The Victory Lab” about Mr. Perry will be published on Tuesday as an electronic book, “Rick Perry and his Eggheads: Inside the Brainiest Political Operation in America.” Mr. Issenberg is previously the author of “The Sushi Economy.” An e-mail exchange between Mr. Issenberg and me — slightly condensed — follows:

Q: What makes Rick Perry’s approach to politics different from that of other candidates?

Mr. Issenberg: No candidate has ever presided over a political operation so skeptical about the effectiveness of basic campaign tools and so committed to using social-science methods to rigorously test them.

As the 2006 election season approached, the governor’s top strategist, Dave Carney, invited four political scientists into Perry’s war room and asked them to impose experimental controls on any aspect of the campaign budget that they could randomize and measure. Over the course of that year, the eggheads, as they were known within the campaign, ran experiments testing the effectiveness of all the things that political consultants do reflexively and we take for granted: candidate appearances, TV ads, robocalls, direct mail. These were basically the political world’s version of randomized drug trials, which had been used by academics but never from within a large-scale partisan campaign.

The findings from those 2006 tests dramatically changed how Carney prioritized the candidate’s time and the campaign’s money when Perry sought reelection again in 2010 and will inform the way he runs for president now.

There is much more.

The 2006 campaign was a three way contest that seemed untraditional from the beginning. In 2010 Perry began the contest way behind and opposed by most of the big Texas media. He started by meeting with bloggers. I was at some of these meetings. Perry came across as both smart and friendly. He said some of the same things about his approach to business development he says now, although he gave some very specific examples of his interaction with those seeking to bring businesses to Texas.

I saw at the time that his strongest case for reelection was how the Texas economy was performing compared to the rest of the country. Even those who did not like the governor had a hard time countering his record of success, I think it was ultimately why he won the primary and gneral election. He also was in sync with the Tea Party movement early and was able to run against his opponents ties to Washington.

Those who think he might have made some gaffes last week, just are not as in touch with the voters as Perry is on the issues from global warming to the Fed. Those who try to criticize Perry for the remarks will find themselves on the wrong side of voters on the substance of the issues. Perry will probably get smarter in how he says somethings about the issues, but his instincts of where to be on them are sound.


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