National political reporters will discuss modern campaign tactics and the 2012 election

AMES, Iowa – Two national political writers will discuss at an Iowa State University lecture how the use of novel social science methods steered the 2012 presidential campaign to an Obama victory.

"How New Campaign Styles Win Elections" will examine tactics such as "data mining" and "microtargeting" that are changing the way political parties woo groups of voters. The discussion, which is sponsored by the Harkin Institute of Public Policy, is Monday, Feb. 4, at 8 p.m. in the Memorial Union Great Hall. It is free and open to the public.

Speakers Sasha Issenberg and Ryan Lizza will detail how political reporters – and their reporting – have not kept pace with the modern campaign methods, said David Peterson, professor of political science at Iowa State and interim director of the Harkin Institute.

"Campaigns have adopted the tools and techniques of social scientists, but most reporters don't understand these practices yet and don't report on them very well," said Peterson, who will moderate the discussion. "Political columnists who report on 'what they feel' during a campaign are definitely old school and are not giving the public an accurate picture of the election."

Issenberg is the author of a 2012 book, “The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns.” He has been a columnist for Slate and covered the 2008 election for The Boston Globe. His work has also appeared in New York, The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Monthly, Inc., The Atlantic, and George, where he served as a contributing editor. His first book, “The Sushi Economy: Globalization and the Making of a Modern Delicacy” was published in 2007.

Lizza is The New Yorker’s Washington, D.C., correspondent. He writes about national politics and covered the 2012 presidential campaign. Lizza joined The New Yorker after working at The New Republic, where he was a political correspondent from 1998 to 2007, covering the White House and presidential politics. He was formerly a correspondent for GQ and a contributing editor for New York. He has also written for The New York Times, Washington Monthly and The Atlantic Monthly.

Peterson said the discussion will examine the framework of new social science techniques that give political strategists "perhaps thousands of data points" revealing how likely a person will get out and vote and support one candidate over another.

"We'll take a look at what worked and what didn't during the 2012 presidential run," he said.

The panel discussion is part of a daylong Harkin Institute symposium on Feb. 4 titled "Social Science, Presidential Campaigns and Political Reporting." Several scholars will speak at the event that is free and open to the public in the Memorial Union South Ballroom beginning at 9:15 a.m.

The symposium includes four sessions:

  • 9:30 a.m. "Experiments in Messaging: Insights from Psychology," Joanne Miller, University of Minnesota
  • 11 a.m. "What We Don't Know about Campaign Mobilization," Scott McClurg, Southern Illinois University
  • 1 p.m. "Did the 2012 Ground Game Matter?" Seth Masket, University of Denver; and
  • 2:30 p.m. "Did Obama's Campaign Win Him the Election?" John Sides, George Washington University, and Lynn Vavreck, UCLA.

The Harkin Institute is named for U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, an ISU alumnus who has served 38 years in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate. The institute will house Harkin's papers, and serve as the catalyst for interdisciplinary research, teaching and outreach on public policy issues.