Social science has established a real beachhead in contemporary political campaigns. Sasha Isssenberg’s forthcoming book, The Victory Lab, tells the story (see also this). Here is a passage from his interview with David Leonhardt about an excerpt from the book called “Rick Perry and His Eggheads: Inside the Brainiest Political Operation in America.”
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 re-election again in 2010 and will inform the way he runs for president now.
And here are your eggheads:
We report the results of the first large-scale experiment involving paid political advertising. During the opening months of a 2006 gubernatorial campaign, approximately $2 million of television and radio advertising on behalf of the incumbent candidate was deployed experimentally. In each experimental media market, the launch date and volume of television advertising were randomly assigned. In order to gauge movement in public opinion, a tracking poll conducted brief telephone interviews with approximately 1,000 registered voters each day and a brief follow-up one month after the conclusion of the television campaign. Results indicate that televised ads have strong but short-lived effects on voting preferences. The ephemeral nature of these effects is more consistent with psychological models of priming than with models of on-line processing.
For more from this experiment, see this post by Kevin Collins, who finds that radio and television ads also increased campaign contributions to Perry.