The Gamble authors liveblog the Presidential Debate at the NY Times

Authors John Sides and Lynn Vavreck were invited by the New York Times Campaign Stops blog to live-blog the Townhall Presidential Debate last night, alongside Stanley Fish, Gary Gutting, and Kevin Noble Maillard.

Sides contributes a post tracking voters’ perceptions of the candidates’ empathy: While Romney has made many strides in his likability, Sides shows that he continues to lag behind Obama in the key trait of empathy. Here’s a graph of his findings:

And Vavreck continues her examination of the undecided voter group in a post that argues that party affiliation is more important than we think when it comes to undecided voters.

She writes:
“As you can see, party identification is more closely related to vote choice for people who can make up their mind a year out from an election, but even among undecided voters coming to a decision, party is a strong driver. For each party, 65 percent of the self-identified partisans choose their party’s candidate, compared to a stunning 93 or 94 percent among those who decide well in advance.

Interestingly, independents who were initially undecided are breaking more heavily for Obama compared to the independents who were able to make an early choice (they’re evenly split). In general, each party group makes up about a third of the set of undecided voters (although independents are closer to 40 percent).”

These two posts demonstrate the value of data and scholarly analysis of that data in understanding what’s happening beneath the surface of the presidential campaign. Having access to this type of data during the election instead of months later (the machinery of academia moves slower than the news cycle), is invaluable and this is precisely why we’ve made two chapters from The Gamble: available months before publication.



The Gamble: The Hand You’re Dealt
John Sides & Lynn Vavreck



The Gamble: Random, or Romney?
John Sides & Lynn Vavreck


These ebooks are are available for free via the Princeton University Press web site and other retailers. Click through to see if they are available via your favorite retailer.


Quintus Tullius Cicero, campaign strategist and younger brother of the celebrated Roman orator, to blog live on Facebook during tonight’s presidential debate

Quintus Tullius Cicero, author of the bestselling campaign manual HOW TO WIN AN ELECTION: An Ancient Guide for Modern Politicians, will be blogging Live on Facebook during tonight’s presidential debate.

Here is a snippet from Quintus Cicero’s blogging session during last week’s running mate debate:
In Rome we had a very simple solution to the problem of public funding for health services for our citizens. There was none. If you had enough money, you got medical care. If you didn’t, you prayed to the gods you wouldn’t die.

Dennis Thompson at Cambridge Forum

Compromise is a necessary ingredient of a functioning democracy, but it’s in scarce supply in Washington, DC. Why? And can we fix it? Dennis Thompson appeared at the Cambridge Forum to discuss the history and future of compromise in the US Government. This should be required viewing for everyone in the run-up to the election.



The Spirit of Compromise
Why Governing Demands It and Campaigning Undermines It
Amy Gutmann & Dennis Thompson

Will the Ground Wars Help?

This weekend, the GOP plans a massive volunteer effort to make 2 million voter contacts, in the hopes of capitalizing on Romney’s strong performance in the first debate. But how important is personal campaign contact in this day and age? Is knocking on doors and making phone calls a quaint throwback to simpler times, or a powerful opportunity to sway the undecided voter? Rasmus Kleis Nielsen‘s new book Ground Wars is a look at how personalized political communication continues to impact electoral outcomes and with it, American democracy. Now as the presidential campaigns switch into high gear, he takes to Election 101 to look at how the ground wars are being waged, and to what effect, especially in the highly contested swing states.


Every Little Bit Counts…Especially for Romney

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen


The Presidential election is nearing the home stretch, and both campaigns know every little bit counts as most likely voters are finally paying attention. Barack Obama is ahead in the polls in every swing state, and the Romney campaign will have to pull off a major upset to win in November.

In the final weeks, the bulk of media attention will focus on the debates, the daily battle to control the news agenda, and the ads released by the two campaigns, but under the cover of this “air war”, both sides are also preparing the final offensive in the “ground war” waged to capture every last persuadable swing voter and make sure every single sympathizer turns out to vote.

On the ground, the Obama and Romney campaigns are pursuing the same goal, but by different means. Both want to make that extra phone call and door knock to reach the undecided and go that extra mile to make sure the so-called “lazy partisans” get off the couch and cast their vote. But the ways in which they do it differ in important ways.

Barack Obama’s field operation is building on the staff, technology, and volunteer infrastructure of his highly successful 2008 campaign. President Obama does not seem to inspire the volunteer enthusiasm that Senator Obama did, but his campaign is more experienced, more generously staffed, and has had four years to further fine-tune their organizing and targeting technologies and test their tactics (in the battle around health care as well as in select races in the 2010 mid-terms). Efforts by local Democrats and especially organized labor will complement the Obama campaign in important ways, but the backbone of the President’s field operation is controlled by the Chicago headquarter and has been developed over the last four years at a deliberate pace.

Mitt Romney’s field operation, in contrast, is not even technically his. The Republican ground game is instead organized primarily through the Republican National Committee, which has invested millions in offices in swing states, hundreds of staffers on the ground, and updated technologies for targeting voters and organizing outreach. In addition, Romney will rely on help from outside allies including American Crossroads, the National Rifle Association, and the Christian Coalition, all of whom are engaged in well-financed voter outreach programs to make sure various Republican constituencies are turned out for Romney. Like the Republican National Committee, these outside groups have been able to plan their field operations well before it was known who the Republican nominee would be, but they have not had the advantage afforded their Democratic counterparts, who knew exactly who their candidate was.

These two campaigns wage very different ground wars—one campaign is relatively centralized, organized around the party’s presidential candidate and his campaign organization, whereas the other is more decentralized, organized partly around the national party organization but also a number of important outside allies, with less involvement of the candidate’s formal campaign organization.

Interestingly, we have seen a similar confrontation before, between two very different field operations—in 2004. Back then, it was also the incumbent, the Republican George W. Bush, who fielded a relatively centralized ground operation fueled mostly by volunteers, whereas the challenger, the Democratic John Kerry, relied on a wider coalition build in large part outside his formal campaign or even the auspices of the Democratic Party and partly reliant on paid canvassers. In retrospect, the relatively centralized apparatus spearheaded in 2004 by Bush’s two key political operatives  Karl Rove and Ken Mehlman is widely seen as having been more effective than the more sprawling coalition that Michael Whouley at the Democratic National Committee and Steve Rosenthal at the temporary outside campaign organization (pre-super PAC) “America Coming Together” strove to coordinate.

That difference is worth keeping in mind when the numbers start rolling in from campaigns keen to talk up their own ground game. As Election Day draws near, you will hear more and more talk about how many staffers each side has working in the field, how many offices they have in the swing states, how amazing their new technologies for targeting are, and how many millions of contacts they have made.

Experimental research documenting the impact of door knocks and phone calls proves that all this matters, and the monumental investment made in the ground war reflects that campaign operatives are increasingly focused on using personalized political communication as an integral part of their communications arsenal.

But ultimately, the political ground war is, like most other conflicts, not only about quantity—it is also about quality, about which campaign is better organized to get the most out of every dollar, every staffer, every volunteer hour invested in the ground war. That’s why we need to pay attention to every little detail, including how the two campaigns are organized and how they collaborate with their outside allies. Everything suggests that the Romney field operation is better than the McCain ground game in 2008, and benefits from more outside support. The question is whether it is good enough, faced with what appears to be a generously funded, battle-tested and supremely well-prepared Obama campaign.

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen is research fellow at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford and assistant professor at Roskilde University in Denmark.


More Guesstimating Election 2012

Lawrence Weinstein’s new 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 the next in his series of election-themed problems. Read on to see how to estimate an answer to  How many telephone robo-calls will be made during the campaign season? 


Question: How many telephone robo-calls will be made during the campaign season?


Answer: We could try to estimate this by considering each state individually, looking at the competitiveness of its elections in both the primary and the general election and considering the number of candidates running in each election. Voters in very competitive states would receive dozens of robo-calls and voters in other states would receive very few.  We could further break this down by estimating the proportion of households with land lines and with cell phones.  However, this is much too much work.


Instead let’s estimate that each household receives more than one and less than 100 robo-calls.  Taking the geometric mean, this gives 10 robo-calls per household.  The population of the US is about people giving about 108 households.  At 10 calls per household, this gives

N=(10^8 households) (10 calls/household)

=10^9 calls

of one billion robo-calls.  That seems like a lot.


At a mere ten seconds wasted per call, that is 1010 wasted seconds or 300 wasted years of our time!


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: “[C]hocolate chip cookies (CCCs) have eight times the energy as the same weight of TNT. How can that be true? Why can’t we blow up a building with CCCs instead of TNT? Almost everyone who hasn’t studied the subject assumes (incorrectly) that TNT releases a great deal more energy than cookies. That includes most physics majors….Even though chocolate chip cookies contain more energy than a similar weight of TNT, the energy is normally released more slowly, through a series of chemical processes that we call metabolism.”

Physics and Technology for Future Presidents:
An Introduction to the Essential Physics Every World Leader Needs to Know

by Richard A. Muller

We invite you to read the preface online:

“Modern science and technology have the power to shape the world we live in, for good or for evil. Muller, himself a brilliant, creative scientist, has distilled the most important scientific principles that define our choices, and has presented them clearly and objectively. To make wise decisions, not only future presidents, but future business and community leaders, and thoughtful citizens generally, need the information in this book.”–Frank Wilczek, Nobel Prize–winning physicist



Remember Romney’s Dog?

Of course you do. You could probably refresh your memory of the story in a few clicks. Viktor Mayer-Schönberger is the author of Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age, which argues that the all-too-perfect memory of the digital realm has serious implications for all of us. Case in point: Just last week, Mitt Romney suffered a setback at the hands of a certain widely released fundraiser video. It’s a familiar story. Politicians and public figures have suffered countless humiliations courtesy of cyberspace’s refusal to let bygones be bygones, a comeuppance that can seem unfair when the result can mean an entire career of public service cancelled out by one all-too-visible error in judgment (or tweet). Perhaps with so much of life digitally preserved,  mankind can learn to adjust and filter accordingly?  Read Schönberger’s Election 101 post here.


Remembering Romney’s Dog

Viktor Mayer-Schönberger


Mitt Romney’s dog, tied to the roof of the family car during a long vacation drive, is one picture (even if only imagined, based on the light-hearted story told by Romney’s son) that fails to fade. A year ago, aspiring young Democratic Congressmen Anthony Weiner, married to Hilary Clinton’s long-time personal aide abruptly resigned; he had sent partially nude digital pictures of himself together with explicit messages to at least six women he barely knew.

This election cycle is no different from the last. Stories and pictures from a politician’s past appear and shape our perceptions of who he (or she) is. And these images don’t go away, they stay in our collective mind, and no matter how hard politicians try, these images continue to define them in the public eye. At best they go away when the politician does. Rep. Weiner’s images have faded from the public eye, because so has he.

With so much of our daily lives captured digitally, so many digital photos taken, so many billions of emails exchanged, Tweets sent, Facebook Status messages posted, many of the digerati, the self-proclaimed Internet experts, predicted that humans would swiftly adjust to comprehensive digital memory, and develop robust cognitive filters. We would, the argument went, simply disregard the meme of Romney’s dog or Weiner’s explicit messages as an irrelevant little piece of digital trivia that is not representative of Governor Romney or Representative Weiner. If everyone has such skeletons in the closet, why should we bother? Wouldn’t we be better advised to scrutinize politicians’ agendas than their digital memories?

It’s an admirable viewpoint – and always struck me as terribly naïve. For one, not all of us strap our dogs to car roofs for long rides, or send sexually explicit messages to people we barely know. And the ubiquity of digital cameras (and the ease of sharing photos) does not turn us into Exhibitionists or Peeping Toms. But even more importantly, human cognition is primed to remember the exceptional, and to forget the ordinary. That is how we think. For thousands of years it helped us to quickly recognize changed conditions; it made us aware of dangers and saved our ancestor’s (and perhaps our) lives. We have this particular ability to see the red rose in a field full of yellow tulips – and that rose is what we later remember in detail, not the thousands of tulips around it. Because we recognize and remember exceptions, we can’t quickly forget Romney’s dog and Weiner’s explicit messages, even if we wanted to.

Thus, if more of our lives is captured digitally, preserved, and kept accessible, neither politicians nor we ourselves can hope for a cognitive adjustment that lets us put aside extraordinary bits of the past.

In politics this means that we may continue to remember Romney’s dog as much (or more) as his political agenda, even though that’s not how most of us like to see ourselves: rational and objective. It does not only complicate a politician’s life (she has to assume to be constantly watched), it also makes politics an unattractive career. That is troubling for a democracy.

But retaining an ability to forget in the digital age is important not just for democracy, but for all of us. We all have trespassed in the past, and unlike in the analog age these misdeeds are more frequently captured digitally now, and preserved long-term. It may be time to think how we best can rid ourselves of some of these digital memories that are no longer relevant to who we are today.

Viktor Mayer-Schönberger is professor of internet governance and regulation at the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, and a member of the academic advisory board of Microsoft. His other books include Governance and Information Technology. A former software developer and lawyer, he spent ten years on the faculty of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.


FACT: “Upon his inauguration, Obama was in a position somewhat similar to Ronald Reagan’s in 1980. Both took office when Americans were pessimistic about the economy and dissatisfied with the incumbent president. In a late November 1980 Gallup poll, only 31% of Americans approved of the job Jimmy Carter was doing. At the same point in time in 2008, only 29% approved of George W. Bush.”

“The Hand You’re Dealt” from The Gamble:
Choice and Chance in the 2012 Presidential Election

by John Sides & Lynn Vavreck

“The Hand You’re Dealt” is the first of a series of free eBook preview chapters from John Sides and Lynn Vavreck’s groundbreaking Fall 2013 book, The Gamble: Choice and Chance in the 2012 Presidential Election. These eBook chapters are scheduled to be released between August and December 2012.

What are the odds that Barack Obama will be reelected in November, despite a weak economy? Many answers to this question are backed by little more than speculation and spin. But what does current and historical data—and political science—suggest? In this chapter, political analysts John Sides and Lynn Vavreck show that Obama is surprisingly popular given the state of the economy, and they offer several explanations—including Obama’s likability and the fact that more people blame George W. Bush for the country’s economic problems than blame Obama. But Sides and Vavreck also show that the mixed economic picture and the events of Obama’s first term make it likely that the election will be close. These are just some of the points that Sides and Vavreck make in this incisive chapter as they gauge the most important factors in the political and economic landscape going into the election campaign—and what they portend for Obama’s (and Mitt Romney’s) chances.

This book represents an unprecedented effort to use a “Moneyball” approach to tell the story of what promises to be a dramatic election campaign, drawing on large quantities of data about the economy, public opinion, news coverage, and political advertising to determine the factors that really make a difference. At the same time, Sides and Vavreck will be visiting the campaign trail to find out what matters most to both of the campaigns and to voters. The result promises to be the only book about the election that combines on-the-ground reporting, social science, and quantitative data in order to look beyond the anecdote, folklore, and conventional wisdom that too often pass for analysis of presidential elections.

To find out more, download this chapter and begin reading the authors’ special introduction to this and the other free chapters that will follow as the election campaign unfolds.

The Gamble is scheduled to be published as a complete print and ebook in September 2013.

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

“The Undecided Voter” a la Saturday Night Live

Our author Lynn Vavreck wrote eloquently for the New York Times last week about the movements of “the undecided voter.” Perhaps SNL writers read Campaign Stops too?

It turns out a lot of people do, and we’ve seen responses from all over the web:

  • Dylan Matthews at the Washington Post’s Wonk Blog sums it up saying, “So the “undecided” count has stayed pretty constant at 6 percent. It’s just a different group of people each week.”
  • PostBourgie writes, “this year’s presidential election might ultimately come down to the mercurial whims of a few thousand people who don’t really pay attention to or care all that much about this stuff.”
  • Larry Bartels writes at Washington Monthly, “To readers versed in election studies, these findings will seem very reminiscent of those from the first scholarly analysis of campaign effects: “conversion is, by far, the least frequent result and activation the second most frequent manifest effect of the campaign.” However, whereas Lazarsfeld and his colleagues in 1940 studied 600 prospective voters in Erie County, Ohio, Vavreck and her colleagues in 2012 have 44,000 nationwide. That’s real scientific progress.”
  • At The Week, they include the “6 percenters” among “a handful of key figures that have entered the political lexicon this year.”




Sample Free Chapters from The Gamble

John Sides & Lynn Vavreck



Lynn Vavreck on the movement of undecided voters, #TheGamble2012

Lynn Vareck, author of The Message Matters and co-author of our innovative forthcoming book The Gamble, writes at the New York Times’s Campaign Stops site about shifts among undecided voters. Who is moving from the undecided column to the either Romney or Obama, and why? To set the stage, she draws on data from December 2011:

In a December 2011 YouGov poll for the Cooperative Campaign Analysis Project, 94 percent of those polled had already made up their minds about whom to support in a Mitt Romney-Barack Obama contest. Got that? Before the Republican primaries even began, before Romney was even the nominee, only 6 percent of voters were undecided.

For such a small portion of the total voting population, they receive an awful lot of attention. But has all this attention and the efforts of the campaigns helped to move them into the decided column? And if so, do they actually stay there or do they pendulum back and forth from decided to undecided? Here’s what Vavreck writes,

Let’s start with the easy part – on average, half of the 1,543 initially undecided voters report that they are still unsure in 2012. But the closer we get to the election, the fewer people remain undecided. The latest two surveys (one after each convention) show that the share of still uncommitted voters (from that initial group) had dwindled to 25 percent.

Where are these voters going as they make up their minds?  On average, over the course of 2012, 28 percent of December’s undecided voters moved to Romney, and 26 percent to Obama.

But, there is a lot more to this as Vavreck makes clear. More undecideds are swinging into the Obama column as we get closer to the election. But, this movement is a two-way street. Some voters who were previously decided for Obama or Romney are moving into the undecided column, writes Vavreck:

So far, this seems pretty straightforward: the share of undecided voters is going down as the election gets close, and in the last few weeks as these voters make up their minds, they have started to break slightly for Obama. But just to keep it interesting, at the same time that more people are finally making a decision, other people are moving away from their initial choice.

Between 3 and 4 percent of early deciders abandon their initial choice and have not made another when we re-interview them in 2012. That’s right: They have become undecided.

For more on Vavreck’s findings, please go read her fascinating, data-rich article at the New York Times Campaign Stops blog:



Sample Free Chapters from The Gamble

John Sides & Lynn Vavreck



PUP author E.J. Dionne Jr. is mentioned as a noteworthy intellectual of liberal Catholicism in a New York Times op-ed

In last weekend’s NY Times, Molly Worthen laments the caricatured, politically right-wing version of Catholicism portrayed in the U.S. Presidential campaign, and argues for increased attention to an all-too-often ignored and ill-understood social justice orientation of liberal Catholicism. The tradition of liberal Catholicism, which is incompatible with the Ayn Randian visions of Vice-Presidential candidate Paul Ryan, remains alive and well, and is discussed and defended with eloquence in a recent Princeton University Press book by EJ Dionne Jr. policy making:

If the Democratic Party is not listening to liberal Catholics, it is partly because they are not in a position to speak very loudly. They are dodging the sights of a Roman hierarchy more preoccupied with smoking out left-leaning nuns than nurturing critical thinking.

“Is liberal Catholicism dead?” Time wondered a few years back. The answer is no: in some regards, liberal Catholic intellectuals are flourishing. They are writing and teaching, running social justice initiatives at the church’s great universities, ensconced in professorships around the Ivy League. Yet a cozy academic subculture can be as isolating as it is empowering.

The handful of nationally known Catholic political thinkers who might be called progressive, or at least compassionate and cosmopolitan — like the journalist-scholars Garry Wills and E. J. Dionne Jr., blogmeister Andrew Sullivan, or the feminist nun and blogger Sister Joan Chittister — are far outnumbered by the ranks of prominent Catholic conservatives in the trenches of activism and policy making.

Read more over at the NY Times op-ed pages.


Souled Out:
Reclaiming Faith and Politics after the Religious Right
E. J. Dionne Jr.




FACT: “In 1964, Ronald Reagan was co-chair of Barry Goldwater’s campaign in California. He spoke out frequently in support of Goldwater’s brand of conservative Republicanism. But Reagan’s big moment in the campaign, the event that would put him on a trajectory for the White House, came by accident. Shortly before the November election, Goldwater canceled a major Los Angeles fund-raising speech. The organizers asked Reagan to fill in. Reagan, though tailoring his remarks to promote Goldwater, gave the same basic speech he had been honing for years. However, few Americans outside of GE plants or what Reagan self-mockingly called the ‘mashed potato’ lecture circuit had ever heard it. The crowd of bigwig Republican donors was starstruck by Reagan’s performance. Especially as compared to Goldwater (but really as compared to any contemporary political figure), Reagan was, as soon would be said everywhere, a great communicator. A group of wealthy men asked Reagan to repeat the speech on national television. They would buy the airtime.”

The Rise and Fall of Modern American Conservatism:
A Short History

by David Farber

The Rise and Fall of Modern American Conservatism tells the gripping story of perhaps the most significant political force of our time through the lives and careers of six leading figures at the heart of the movement. David Farber traces the history of modern conservatism from its revolt against New Deal liberalism, to its breathtaking resurgence under Ronald Reagan, to its spectacular defeat with the election of Barack Obama.

Farber paints vivid portraits of Robert Taft, William F. Buckley Jr., Barry Goldwater, Phyllis Schlafly, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush. He shows how these outspoken, charismatic, and frequently controversial conservative leaders were united by a shared insistence on the primacy of social order, national security, and economic liberty. Farber demonstrates how they built a versatile movement capable of gaining and holding power, from Taft’s opposition to the New Deal to Buckley’s founding of the National Review as the intellectual standard-bearer of modern conservatism; from Goldwater’s crusade against leftist politics and his failed 1964 bid for the presidency to Schlafly’s rejection of feminism in favor of traditional gender roles and family values; and from Reagan’s city upon a hill to conservatism’s downfall with Bush’s ambitious presidency.

The Rise and Fall of Modern American Conservatism provides rare insight into how conservatives captured the American political imagination by claiming moral superiority, downplaying economic inequality, relishing bellicosity, and embracing nationalism. This concise and accessible history reveals how these conservative leaders discovered a winning formula that enabled them to forge a powerful and formidable political majority.

We invite you to read the Introduction here:

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