Skip to main content

Watch: Journalist Sasha Issenberg '02 on the Secret Science of Elections

PBS NewsHour: Sasha Issenberg '02 on Winning Campaigns

On a recent episode of PBS NewsHour, journalist Sasha Issenberg '02 discussed the behavioral science of winning elections and how that science has been increasingly applied to the field - from asking voters what time they plan on voting to using social pressure to encourage voter participation. The timely interview coincides with the September release of his second book, The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Elections. Coverage of his book has also appeared in The Washington Post, Mother Jones, and CBS News, among others.

WATCH: (Video runs 7 min. 47 sec.)

"The science on turnout has gotten a lot better," Issenberg says. "We don't a whole lot more about what makes you change your mind ... than we did a decade ago, but we know a lot more about what can motivate you to actually cast a ballot, and increasingly its informed by behavioral psychology."

Issenberg continues: "Insights that are coming out of academia or coming out of research institutes ... are effecting everything that goes on the ground. When you get contacted the weekend before the election by someone (with) the Obama campaign, they're almost certainly going to ask you what time you plan to vote on Election Day. They're not going to write down the answer, but they've learned through years of experiments that asking (voters) what time they plan to vote, where they're going to come from beforehand, (and) what they'll be doing that day makes them develop a plan, which is a behavioral mechanism that actually makes someone more likely to follow through on an action."

Sasha Issenberg '02 is a columnist for Slate and the Washington correspondent for Monocole. He covered the 2008 presidential campaign for The Boston Globe as a national political correspondent and has written for New York Magazine, The New York Times Magazine, and George, where he served as a contributing editor. He is also the author of The Sushi Economy: Globalization and the Making of a Modern Delicacy (2007). In The Victory Lab, Issenberg notes that "I never had the good sense to study with Rick Valelly ['75] when I attended Swarthmore, but I am glad to have gotten to know him since; he offered sage scholarly counsel on this project, partially by belatedly assigning me the political science syllabus I dodged as an undergraduate."

Submissions Welcome

The Communications Office invites all members of the Swarthmore community to share videos, photos, and story ideas for the College's website. Have you seen an alum in the news? Please let us know by writing