Sunday, October 30, 2016

Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns

Elections today are won by “nudges of turnout” with two points here and six points there that decide close races, especially in our polarized political environment.

To get these nudges, political scientists and professional campaign operatives generate and analyze thousands of bits of voter data, which is available through public record and market research. As a result, a whole new area of political science research has emerged that combines computer technology with behavioral science in order to determine who voters are and how they can be persuaded to vote.

Sasha Issenberg, author of he Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns, spoke to students and faculty recently at the annual William Weber Lecture in Government and Society on how this sophisticated, data-driven system works.

The three-time author and political journalist for Bloomberg and formerly Slate and Boston Globe became aware of this new kind of campaigning during the 2008 presidential election when he covered John McCain’s campaign in Michigan.

Data-driven campaigns actually began in the 1960s with punch card computers creating databases on voters. In the 1970s, data was organized into precincts and included names of voters, their gender, age, race/ethnicity and political party affiliation. In the 1990s, campaigns copied consumer marketers’ tactics in identifying and persuading voters.

“Campaigns never interact with people individually,” said Issenberg, “but they are able to see the electorate all at once.”

Political scientists had been explaining voter behavior as a rational activity of citizenship. They also focused on measuring the effectiveness of television, radio, direct mail and phone banks.

In 1998, two Yale political scientists, Alan Gerber and Don Green, began conducting experiments that measured and analyzed voter motivations. They found that people act in the social context of their peers and can be persuaded to do something if they are thanked rather than if they are asked.

“You will probably get letters in the mail this fall thanking you for voting in 2012 and alerting you to the election on November 8,” said Issenberg.

Trump has defied the type data-driven campaign and instead plays to the mass media and Twitter.

“Trump’s campaign is not targeted,” said Issenberg. “He’s using his personality and persuasion through the logic of network television where it gets people to pay attention and hopefully come back to watch.”

The William Weber Lecture in Government and Society was founded by Bill Weber, a 1939 graduate of Kalamazoo College who until his death in 2011, traveled from California back to K College to attend these lectures.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Leaving our "Extractivist" past behind is about survival

This article appeared in on October 26, 2016

The tension between what is politically possible under the world’s current political and economic systems and what is ecologically necessary exposes the need for change, said Naomi Klein, keynote speaker for the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership's annual Without Borders conference held last weekend at Kalamazoo College. While the Paris climate change agreement looked like the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel era, it is not legally binding nor can it make enough of a difference to change the course ecological disaster.

“Fossil fuel frontiers have to be closed if we have any hope of a future,” said Klein. “Politicians have absolutely no plan to do this.”

Doing something about climate change has failed since 1988 when neoliberalism emerged to promote privatization, fiscal austerity, deregulation, free trade and reductions in government spending to enhance the private sector in the economy. Such policies have created in people a profound sense of hopelessness about climate change, said Klein.

“We are told that selfishness and short-sightedness is part of human nature, which prevents us acting,” said Klein. “This is not true and it steers us away from an analysis of our [capitalist] system. In fact, the fight for survival is human nature.”

Many local, grassroots groups are taking on climate change as they see its connection to an unjust economic system that is failing for a vast majority of people all over the planet, she said.
Klein challenged the audience to work for “climate justice” by reversing the “extractivist” point of view of the Earth and promoting the “caretaking” of one another, an ethos indigenous people advocate.

“It’s not just ‘energy democracy’ but ‘energy justice’ that we need,” said Klein. “This leads to clean energy projects and jobs.”

She also emphasized that service work like nursing, child care, public interest media should be redefined as climate work that sets out to create a “caring and repairing economy.”

“We need to embed justice in every aspect of our lives,” said Klein. “The people are hungry for transformational change, and we have to go for it on all fronts.”

Photo: Naomi Klein (b. May 5, 1970), Canadian journalist, author and activist. Warsaw (Poland), November 19, 2008. Photo by Mariusz Kubik. Via Wikimedia Commons.