Archives for May 2012

Venus in the wings, waiting for her big moment, a photograph by Eli Maor

copyright Eli Maor


Here’s an image of Venus Eli Maor took with his Celestron-5 on Tuesday evening about 40 minutes after sunset. We will all be watching closely when Venus makes her epic transit across the face of the sun on June 5th, one week exactly after this photograph was taken. This is a once in a lifetime, or several lifetimes, opportunity, so don’t miss it.


In the meantime, you can read Eli’s thoughts on the transit here:


Or pick up a copy of Venus in Transit, Eli’s book about the last transit in 2004.

Robert Shiller in the UK


Robert Shiller was in the UK during the first week of May to promote his latest book ‘Finance and the Good Society’.  His appearances ranged from an interview on CNBC Europe Squawk Box to videos for The Guardian and Economia as well as lectures at the Royal Society of Arts and the London School of Economics.

Please follow the links to catch up with any of these appearances.

Wildflower Wedneday — Jack-in-the-Pulpit



Photo credit, C Gracie.
The imaginative name for this plant comes from the perception of the upright central portion’s resemblance to “Jack,” a preacher, in his leafy, overhanging “pulpit.” The tiny flowers of this species are found at the base of “Jack.”

The flowers of a plant are either male or female, determined primarily by the resources of the plant. Larger plants with two leaves usually have female flowers, since greater resources are needed for a plant to be able to produce fruits and seeds. Jack-in-the-pulpit has the interesting ability to change sexes from one year to the next depending on the stored food available in its underground corm. 

For a high-res version of this image, please contact

Read more in Spring Wildflowers of the Northeast
by Carol Gracie

Wildflower Wednesday

Guesstimating Election 2012

Lawrence Weinstein’s forthcoming book, Guesstimation 2.0: Solving Today’s Problems on the Back of a Napkin, shows how to estimate everything from how closely you can orbit a neutron star without being pulled apart by gravity, to the fuel used to transport your food from the farm to the store, to the total length of all toilet paper used in the United States — handy tips for anyone prepping for a job interview in technology or finance, or trying to astound their kids. Today he offers an election-themed problem, with several more installments to come over the course of the summer. Read on to see how to estimate an answer to the burning question How many words will be spoken in public by all the presidential candidates during election season. You know you’re curious…



Question: How many words will be spoken in public by all of the presidential candidates during the election season?


Answer: In order to estimate this, we need to estimate the length of the election season, the number of candidates speaking, and the number of words that speak in public each day.  While it feels like the election season lasts forever, it is really only about a year.  Similarly, despite the fact that each of the primary debates appeared to have 17.3 candidates on stage, the average number of candidates during the primary season was only about five or six and there will be only two candidates during the general election.

Therefore we will estimate that there are five candidates for the 200-day primary season and two candidates for the 200-day general election season for a total of 103 candidate-days.

Now we need to estimate the number of words spoken in public per candidate per day.  Let’s break this down further into the hours spent speaking and the number of words per hour.  We can estimate the speaking time in two ways.  First we can bound a candidate’s public speaking time at more than one and less than ten hours per day.  Taking the geometric mean, we estimate that each candidate spends three hours per day addressing the public.   Alternatively, we know that candidates divide their waking time between fund raising, traveling, organizing, and speaking publically.  Assuming that they sleep 8 hours and divide the remaining time equally, this gives four hours per day for public speaking.  Some candidates might even spend some of their time listening.  If so, they will spend three hours per day in public speaking.

Speaking speed can be estimated a few ways.  We can listen to a speech and measure it, we can take our reading speed and divide by a factor of several, we can look at the transcript of speech, or we can bound it.  Let’s do the last method.  People speak more than 10 words per minute and less than 103.  Taking the geometric mean, we get 102 words per minute.  This makes sense because it is several times slower than typical reading speeds and it is faster than all but the fastest typing speeds.

Now the number of words uttered in public during the campaign can be calculated as

N = (10^3 candidate-day)(3 hr/day)(60 min/hr)(10^2 words/min)
= 2 x 10^7 words

That is 20 million words or enough to fill several hundred books.


Copyright 2012, Lawrence Weinstein.


Lawrence Weinstein is University Professor of Physics at Old Dominion University. He is the coauthor of Guesstimation: Solving the World’s Problems on the Back of a Cocktail Napkin (Princeton).


FACT: “Of the 5 million new voters in 2008 (compared with the election tallies of 2004), an estimated 2 million were African American voters, another 2 million Latino ones, and 600,000 Asian American. According to the Current Population Survey, the number of non-Hispanic white voters remained unchanged between 2004 and 2008 (U.S. Census Bureau, July 20, 2009). Moreover, while the voting rate of eighteen-to twenty-four-year-olds increased from 47 percent in 2004 to 49 percent in 2008, this increase was highest among African American youth.”

Why Americans Don’t Join the Party: Race, Immigration, and the Failure (of Political Parties) to Engage the Electorate
by Zoltan L. Hajnal & Taeku Lee

Two trends are dramatically altering the American political landscape: growing immigration and the rising prominence of independent and nonpartisan voters. Examining partisan attachments across the four primary racial groups in the United States, this book offers the first sustained and systematic account of how race and immigration today influence the relationship that Americans have—or fail to have—with the Democratic and Republican parties. Zoltan Hajnal and Taeku Lee contend that partisanship is shaped by three factors—identity, ideology, and information—and they show that African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos, and whites respond to these factors in distinct ways.

The book explores why so many Americans—in particular, Latinos and Asians—fail to develop ties to either major party, why African Americans feel locked into a particular party, and why some white Americans are shut out by ideologically polarized party competition. Through extensive analysis, the authors demonstrate that when the Democratic and Republican parties fail to raise political awareness, to engage deeply held political convictions, or to affirm primary group attachments, nonpartisanship becomes a rationally adaptive response. By developing a model of partisanship that explicitly considers America’s new racial diversity and evolving nonpartisanship, this book provides the Democratic and Republican parties and other political stakeholders with the means and motivation to more fully engage the diverse range of Americans who remain outside the partisan fray.

We invite you to read Chapter 1 here:

Be sure to check in every Tuesday for a new tidbit from our great selection of politically-minded books.

“Behold! Venus on the Sun’s Face” — Eli Maor on the Transit of Venus

On June 5, 2012, Venus will venture across the face of the Sun in a spectacle that will not be seen again for over a hundred years. Here, Eli Maor provides a little history of this astronomical event and even some observation tips.

Eli Maor is the author of many Princeton University Press books, including The Pythagorean Theorem: A 4,000 Year Historye: The Story of a Number, Trigonometric Delights, and To Infinity and Beyond. One of special interest to readers of this blog post is Venus in Transit. In this book you can read more about the previous transits, including Eli Maor’s personal pilgrimage in 2002, to the town of Much Hoole where he retraced Horrocks’s historic 1639 observation. You also might want to read two of his articles that appeared in the January and June 2012 issues of Sky & Telescope. The June issue includes detailed information on the upcoming transit.

For more information about the transit of Venus, including safety tips, suggestions for viewing sites, and even an app with which you can record your observation and participate in a citizen science project to measure the universe, visit



“Behold! Venus on the Sun’s Face

It was early on the morning of Tuesday, June 8, 2004. Our small group of family members was perched on the edge of a steep cliff overlooking the enormous Ramon Depression, near the town of Mitzpe Ramon in southern Israel. Facing us in all directions were Imposing geologic structures that formed here millions of years ago. With a little imagination it might have been a scene on the Moon, a feeling enhanced by the fact that we were the only human beings in sight. But we didn’t come here to view the awesome terrestrial sights in front of us; we came to witness one of nature’s rarest shows: the passage of the planet Venus in front of the Sun.

Photo taken by Jan Herold, posted at Wikipedia under a GNU Free Documentation License

We positioned our little Questar telescope on the edge of the cliff, checked and rechecked its solar filter to make sure it was safely secured to the front of the scope, synchronized our watches, and waited. At precisely 8:19 a.m., right on the mark, a tiny black intrusion could be seen entering the Sun’s face and slowly making its way inward until, nineteen minutes later, it was fully immersed in the Sun’s disk: a perfectly circular, jet black dot—the image of the planet Venus delineated with razor-sharp clarity against the blazing face of our home star.


It was an emotional moment for me: we were witnessing a sight no human had seen since 1882—the last time Venus crossed the Sun’s face. In fact, this event has been observed and recorded only five times before: in 1639, 1761, 1769, 1874, and 1882. You may discern a pattern in these dates: they are separated by 121 1/2, eight, 105 1/2, eight, and, counting the transit we were just observing, again 121 1/2 years. The entire cycle—considering that pairs of Venus transits alternate between June and December—repeats after 243 years, making this event even rarer than the return of Halley’s comet every 75 years.


Note again the eight-year interval between pairs of transits. This peculiar interval is a result of the orientation of Venus’s and Earth’s orbits around the Sun. So if you missed the transit of 2004, you have one more chance to see it, and it is coming up soon: on June 5, 2012 (June 6 for Europe and Asia). After that it will be a long wait until the next transit, due on December 11, 2117.


*      *      *


The story of transits is not just a case of watching a rare celestial conjunction in real time. Each of the five transits before 2004 was a tale of meticulous preparations, hairsplitting adventures, and sometimes crushing disappointments. It is a riveting story: in 1639 a young and unknown astronomer, Jeremiah Horrocks, examined a table of astronomical data by the famous astronomer Johannes Kepler (1571-1630). Kepler’s table had predicted that Venus would transit the Sun in 1631 and again in 1761; but Horrocks, to his great surprise, found out that Kepler had missed a transit in 1639—just one month away! Horrocks immediately alerted the few astronomers he knew—he was just 21 at the time—urging them to watch this event with their utmost attention, as it would offer a rare opportunity to find out Venus’s true angular size, a quantity that had always been overestimated due to the planet’s intense glare when seen at night.


Horrocks (or Horrox, as his name was spelled then) was largely self-taught, driven by his passion for mathematics and astronomy. He was among the first English scientists to embrace Copernicus’s heliocentric system, which, more than half a century after its publication, was by no means generally accepted by astronomers. Living in the hamlet of Much Hoole, some 15 miles north of Liverpool, Horrocks set up his small telescope in a darkened room and projected the Sun’s image on a screen behind the scope. He began his vigil early on the morning of December 4—a Sunday—but then was called to the local church to perform some official duty. When he returned to his telescope at 3:15 in the afternoon, he was rewarded to see a perfectly circular black dot on the Sun’s image—the silhouette of the planet Venus. This marks the first recorded observation of Venus’s passage over the Sun (the transit that Kepler had predicted for the year 1631 was not visible from Europe, and there is no evidence that anyone observed it in America).


There was just one other witness to this historic moment—Horrocks’s friend William Crabtree, who observed it from his home in nearby Manchester. The two had met as students at Cambridge some years earlier and shared a passion for mathematics and astronomy; but after leaving college they kept in touch solely by correspondence. Following the transit, they were planning at last to meet again and compare their notes, but it was not to be: Horrocks died the day before their scheduled meeting, not yet 23 years old; the cause has never been determined. Thus England lost a young talent that, had he lived longer, might have become the equal of Newton.


*      *      *


Enter now Edmond Halley (1656-1742), one of England’s most illustrious scientists, who in his long life made major discoveries in mathematics, physics, geography, and astronomy, leading to his appointment to the position of Astronomer Royal, the second person to hold this prestigious office. Halley is chiefly remembered today for predicting the return of the famous comet that bears his name, but his other contributions to astronomy were no less important. In 1716, in a paper delivered to the Royal Society in London, he suggested using future transits of Venus to determine the mean distance between the Earth and the Sun. This distance, known as the Astronomical Unit (AU), was a crucial yardstick in establishing the scale of the solar system and the universe beyond.


Halley’s idea was to have the transit observed from a large number of stations, widely separated around the globe. Each station would record the exact moment of Venus’s entrance on the Sun’s disk, and again the moment of its exit. From these times, the planet’s path across the Sun could be determined for each observing station. Due to the effect of parallax, these paths would be shifted slightly as seen from different locations. By measuring the angular distance between different paths, and knowing the geographical position of each station, it should be possible to calculate the AU, using basic trigonometry.


Spurred by Halley’s call, hundreds of astronomers fanned out over the entire globe to watch the next two transits, in 1761 and 1769. Their adventures, successes, and frequent misfortunes became the stuff of legend. Topping them all is the story of a Frenchman by the impossibly long name Guillaume-Joseph-Hyacinthe-Jean-Baptiste Gentil de la Galaisière (1725-1792), commonly known as Le Gentil. His destination was the town of Pondicherry on the southeastern coast of India. Le Gentil left France on March 26, 1760, more than a year before the transit. En route he stopped at the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean, where he learned that Pondicherry was under siege by the British—it was the height of the Seven-Year War between Britain and France. So he boarded a ship headed for the coast of Coromandel in India. But the captain was in no hurry to leave port; it was not until March 1761—less than three months before the transit—that the ship finally set sail. On their way they encountered persistent calms, and worse, Le Gentil had a brush with dysentery. The boat finally reached India in May, but then the Captain got news that Pondicherry had just fallen to the British, so he turned his ship around and sailed straight back to Mauritius. June 6, 1761 found Le Gentil observing the transit from the deck of his rolling ship, making his timings practically useless.


Undaunted, he resolved to make the best of a bad situation. Rather than returning home, he spent the next eight years crisscrossing the islands of the Indian Ocean, observing their flora and fauna, and recording his impressions. But the approaching transit of 1769 was always foremost on his mind. He decided to watch it from Manila, capital of the Philippines, reaching it on August 10, 1766. But then he was instructed by his sponsors, the French Academy of Sciences in Paris, to head back to Pondicherry, his 1761 destination, now that the Seven-Year War was over. Le Gentil did as instructed and arrived there in March 1768, still over a year before the transit. He spent the remaining time making all preliminary observations in order to determine the exact longitude of his location.


For a full month prior to the transit the skies were crystal clear. But on the crucial day, June 3, 1769, an unexpected cloud hid the Sun from his view, and he missed the all-important moment of Venus’s exit from the Sun. It took him two weeks until he could put pen to paper and report his failure to his sponsors in Paris. To add insult to injury, he later learned that at Manila the sky was perfectly clear during the entire transit!


But his troubles were not quite over yet. Slowly making his way back home, he finally arrived in Paris in October 1771, being away for nearly 12 years—only to find out that he had been assumed dead; his heirs were already dividing up his estate, and the Academy demoted him to the rank of a retiree. He had to take legal action to restore his position and get back his property. Then he got married and spent his remaining years raising their daughter and writing his memoirs.


I often think of Le Gentil and find solace in his tribulations whenever I miss some astronomical event due to poor weather, as happened during the total solar eclipse of July 11, 1991—one of the longest of the twentieth century. Our group went to the Big Island of Hawaii, having been promised 360 days of sunshine there. Unfortunately we got one of the remaining five: on Eclipse Day the sky was completely overcast, and we saw nothing. It took two days until our leader found the courage to talk to our group again.


In anticipation of the pair of transits to occur in 1874 and 1882, British astronomer Richard A. Proctor wrote Transits of Venus, a classic account of past and future transits that is still being quoted today. He ended his book with these words:


We cannot doubt that when the transits of 2004 and 2012 are approaching, astronomers will look back with interest on the operations conducted during the present transit-season. The astronomers of the first years of the twenty-first century, looking back over the long transitless period which will then have passed, will understand the anxiety of astronomers in our own time to utilise to the full whatever opportunities the coming transits may afford; and I venture to hope that should there then be found, among old volumes on their book- stalls, the essays and charts by which I have endeavoured to aid in securing that end (perhaps even this little book in which I record the history of the matter), they will not be disposed to judge over-harshly what some in our own day may have regarded as an excess of zeal.


That remote time is now upon us, and the second and last chance to watch our closest planetary neighbor cross the Suns’ face in our lifetime is just a few weeks away. I wish you good luck and clear skies on Transit Day!


Warning: When looking at the Sun, you need to use an approved protective filter, such as can be obtained from a reputable outlet of astronomical equipment. Failure to do so may result in permanent damage to your eyes. Sunglasses, or a smoked glass, are not considered safe and should not be used. In general, the same safety precautions should be taken as when watching the partial phases of a solar eclipse.


*      *      *



FACT: “The Chinese empire was established in 221 BCE, when the state of Qin unified the Chinese world after centuries of intensive interstate warfare. The nascent empire was then roughly contemporary with the Maurya Empire in India and with the Hellenistic and Roman empires in the Mediterranean area. The Chinese empire ended with the proclamation of the Republic in 1912 CE, almost simultaneously with the final collapse of three major empires in the West: the Ottoman, the Habsburg, and the Romanov.”

The Everlasting Empire: The Political Culture of Ancient China and Its Imperial Legacy
by Yuri Pines

Established in 221 BCE, the Chinese empire lasted for 2,132 years before being replaced by the Republic of China in 1912. During its two millennia, the empire endured internal wars, foreign incursions, alien occupations, and devastating rebellions—yet fundamental institutional, sociopolitical, and cultural features of the empire remained intact. The Everlasting Empire traces the roots of the Chinese empire’s exceptional longevity and unparalleled political durability, and shows how lessons from the imperial past are relevant for China today.

Yuri Pines demonstrates that the empire survived and adjusted to a variety of domestic and external challenges through a peculiar combination of rigid ideological premises and their flexible implementation. The empire’s major political actors and neighbors shared its fundamental ideological principles, such as unity under a single monarch—hence, even the empire’s strongest domestic and foreign foes adopted the system of imperial rule. Yet details of this rule were constantly negotiated and adjusted. Pines shows how deep tensions between political actors including the emperor, the literati, local elites, and rebellious commoners actually enabled the empire’s basic institutional framework to remain critically vital and adaptable to ever-changing sociopolitical circumstances. As contemporary China moves toward a new period of prosperity and power in the twenty-first century, Pines argues that the legacy of the empire may become an increasingly important force in shaping the nation’s future trajectory.

“Deeply researched, packed with detail, and bold in scope and analysis, The Everlasting Empire offers a compact yet profound interpretation of the ideological foundations of Chinese political culture. Reflecting on imperial China through its cycles of unity and disintegration from antiquity to the present, this magisterial contribution to empire studies and global history comes at a pivotal moment in time.”—Martin Kern, Princeton University

We invite you to read the Introduction here:

UCLA’s Michael Ross discusses THE OIL CURSE on MSNBC’s Dylan Ratigan show

Check out Michael Ross discusses THE OIL CURSE on yesterday’s edition of MSNBC’s Dylan Ratigan Show.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Geoff Mulgan on Election 2012 and the Challenge of Capitalism

Geoff Mulgan is Chief Executive of the National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts (NESTA) and Visiting Professor at University College, London, the London School of Economics, and the University of Melbourne. He is a member of our European advisory board and author of the forthcoming The Locust and the Bee, which offers the key to understanding capitalism: Why it works, why it falls into crisis, and why it generates such anger and resentment. According to Mulgan, the capitalism that has made our nation wealthy has entered a new and harder phase that the candidates now struggle to address. Read his assessment of the situation after the jump:


Election 2012 and the Challenge of Capitalism

Geoff Mulgan


Four years ago Barack Obama’s election was an ominous contradiction.  It scaled the heights of exhilaration and hope.  But it also plumbed the depths of bad luck, coming amidst the worst crisis in several generations.  Over the succeeding months the contradiction then deepened, as an immensely clever, pragmatic moderate found himself face to face with an extreme situation demanding extreme measures.

Once installed the money flowed; vast sums bailed out Wall Street; and the worst possibilities didn’t materialise.  But four years on it seems almost impossible for the candidates to persuade voters that they are simultaneously in tune with their lives and their values, and possessed of the key to a brighter future.

Instead all the candidates are struggling. The fire and fury on Tea Party issues and Obamacare seem like symptoms of a deeper, unspoken malaise.  From afar it looks as if none of the candidates wants to face up to the big issues – the continued decline of US influence, the scale of its fiscal crisis, and above all its failure to offer opportunities and growth to the majority of its citizens.

The US is not alone in this respect. Nowhere has a post-crash politics yet crystallised.   Everywhere the left still promises more debt, more education, more infrastructure and more science, while the right still promises that growth will come from scaling government back.  Neither side has come to terms with the bigger problem now faced in all developed societies.  The capitalism that made them wealthy has entered a new and harder phase.   For the first few decades after 1945 it provided not only jobs but also rising wages, and rising standards of living for the great majority.  Now it appears to benefit only the very top layer of society, but does little or anything for the middle or bottom.  The result is a hollowing out of the economy that is visible everywhere, including the statistics showing that US median earnings appear to be continuing their long stagnation and even decline.

You might have expected politics to change, as it did in previous periods when capitalism’s operating model for a time produced more losers than winners.  But we’re still in a transitional moment.  For a start the 1% provide a high proportion of the cash for running campaigns and can’t easily be faced down.  Then there’s the uncertainty over who to trust. In his first period in office Barack Obama put his trust in insiders to guide the perilous decisions over who to bail out and how.   Given the scale of the crisis and his own inexperience it’s understandable that he thought bankers might be best placed to understand how to solve problems caused by bankers. But in retrospect he was far too soft on Wall street and far too influenced by its alumni;  a little bit more of the spirit of FDR, who surrounded himself with a group of radical outsiders, might have paid off by now.

The deeper structural problem is also one that’s becoming more visible.    Finance has become as much a predator on the rest of the economy as a source of wealth.   It circulates money, but doesn’t actually do much to provide investment in new ideas, technologies or firms, despite soaking up a much larger share of GDP than in previous decades.   None of the major financial markets plays any serious role in investing in future products and services.  Venture capital has almost opted out – even at the beginning of the 2000s it was only providing 2% of investment in innovation and now the figure is even smaller.  Meanwhile big firms are now sitting on unprecedentedly large cash piles rather than investing it in new ideas, and even the highest tech have chosen share buybacks over investment.

In my book I show that these are symptoms of what has always been the challenge of capitalism – it can be immensely productive, good at rewarding inventors and entrepreneurs. But it has always also rewarded predators, speculators and non-productive activity.  Adam Smith saw this all too clearly.   And for much of the last 150 years legislators and governments have tried to rein in the predators and give more encouragement to the creators.  Over the last generation they lost the will to do this, and were much more likely to end up fawning over billionaires than challenging their wealth and power.

To fix the imbalances and flaws radical new settlements will be needed, that will involve rethinking how we create wealth, what we value, and how we use wealth.  These settlements will have to reshape capital markets to more directly serve the public interest rather than predation;  they’ll have to reshape welfare and education to promote resilience and self-reliance; and they’ll have to recast health not just as a right but as a public good that depends for its realisation as much on the individual and their circles of support as it does on the state or the medical profession.  Some countries are now well down the road of reimagining their social contracts, and shaping a capitalism that can serve the many not just the few.  But Obama’ misfortune may have been to be elected a couple of terms too early, before the landscape is ready.

Some Presidential elections in retrospect made the weather and set the nation on a decisive course. Others were, in the bigger scheme of things, beside the point.  It’s not too late for this one to get real.   But the odds are lengthening.

Wildflower Wednesday — Painted Trillium

Painted Trillium


Photo credit, C Gracie.
Of our three most common species of trillium in the Northeast, my favorite is the painted trillium. Its three white petals are strikingly marked with bright magenta chevrons that “bleed” into the veins of the petal. This species prefers colder, damper habitats than both the large-flowered (white) and purple trilliums and, thus, is less commonly seen.

Like many other spring woodland flowers, the seeds of trillium have a fleshy appendage (an elaiosome) that ants find attractive. The ants carry the seeds off to their nests, where they eat the elaiosomes and discard the seeds, thereby dispersing them away from the mother plant.

For a high-res version of this image, please contact


Read more in Spring Wildflowers of the Northeast
by Carol Gracie

Wildflower Wednesday

Did you catch Andrew Delbanco on Newshour last night?

Andrew Delbanco sat down with Jeff Brown to discuss College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be:

Newshour also posted an extended video on their blog site:


FACT: “In the 2004 presidential election, our analysis estimates that roughly 25 percent of the voting public were persuadable partisans (another 9 percent were persuadable Independents), clearly sufficient numbers of voters to swing victory to either candidate. Of course, not all of these voters were persuaded to vote against their party’s nominee. But our analysis estimates a campaign effect of some 2.8 million partisans switching their expected vote choice in the sixteen key battleground states of the 2004 presidential campaign. Bush’s margin of victory over Kerry in those states was just 200,000 votes.”

The Persuadable Voter: Wedge Issues in Presidential Campaigns
by D. Sunshine Hillygus & Todd G. Shields

The use of wedge issues such as abortion, gay marriage, and immigration has become standard political strategy in contemporary presidential campaigns. Why do candidates use such divisive appeals? Who in the electorate is persuaded by these controversial issues? And what are the consequences for American democracy? In this provocative and engaging analysis of presidential campaigns, Sunshine Hillygus and Todd Shields identify the types of citizens responsive to campaign information, the reasons they are responsive, and the tactics candidates use to sway these pivotal voters. The Persuadable Voter shows how emerging information technologies have changed the way candidates communicate, who they target, and what issues they talk about. As Hillygus and Shields explore the complex relationships between candidates, voters, and technology, they reveal potentially troubling results for political equality and democratic governance.

The Persuadable Voter examines recent and historical campaigns using a wealth of data from national surveys, experimental research, campaign advertising, archival work, and interviews with campaign practitioners. With its rigorous multimethod approach and broad theoretical perspective, the book offers a timely and thorough understanding of voter decision making, candidate strategy, and the dynamics of presidential campaigns.

“[P]ath-breaking. . . . The authors’ novel approach to identifying both persuadable voters and effective micro-targeting techniques provides the most powerful evidence for their argument. The Persuadable Voter reminds us that, overall, the outcome of elections and the face of politics hinge on the ability of parties, candidates, and voters to adapt to each other and to the changing nature of political appeals.”—David A. M. Peterson, Science

We invite you to read Chapter 1 here:

Be sure to check in every Tuesday for a new tidbit from our great selection of politically-minded books.