How political campaigns have mastered marketing tools to profile the electorate.
In his second book, Monocle Washington correspondent Issenberg (The Sushi Economy: Globalization and the Making of a Modern Delicacy, 2007) incorporates his experiences covering the 2008 election for the Boston Globe. He provides anecdotes gleaned from interviews with leading political consultants and a historical overview of the integration of computer technology and behavioral psychology into social marketing, and he traces the increasing sophistication of modern campaigns to the Kennedy campaign. Confronting prejudice against Catholics, JFK’s advisors recommended tackling the issue head-on after subdividing the electorate into specific demographic categories. Issenberg explores the parallel development of the application of behavioral psychology and the recognition that many voting decisions are heavily influenced by emotion rather than rational choice. He tracks the influence of a group of academics from top universities like Yale, who influenced the shape of the modern election campaigns. They developed a finely tuned approach to profiling voters by using a series of criteria such as the magazines they subscribe to, the liquor they drink and their answers to surveys with loaded questions intended to reveal biases. An integral part of this process involved breaking down the population into subcategories—rather than looking at whether precincts customarily vote for a specific party—and directing targeted messages to them, as well as exposing different population clusters to different messages in order to scientifically determine response patterns. This enables an election campaign to efficiently micromanage get-out-the-vote operations in order to focus on the most likely voters for its candidate.
Issenberg illuminates how modern elections exploit marginal advantages, but the narrative becomes scattered at times as the author jumps around from point to point.