With Texas Gov. Rick Perry making such a big splash in the Republican primary, a snippet that can be purchased for $0.99 as an e-book, called Rick Perry and His Eggheads: Inside the Brainiest Political Operation in America, from a yet-to-be-released book, explains his continual electoral success.
Rick Perry and His Eggheads is really only a section of Sasha Issenberg’s book The Victory Lab, which is to be released in the fall of next year, but it gives great insight into his highly effective campaigns in Texas.
The pre-release was an intelligent way for the author to build publicity for the book, because it coincided with the nation’s first real introduction to Perry. Many wonder what has made the man so successful, and even more so, whether he can translate his success to a national campaign.
Rick Perry and His Eggheads demonstrates how using more rigorous statistical research and challenging traditional ideas can bring about great results on the campaign trail at a fraction of the cost of established methods.
The 30-page chapter also provides great insight into how a Perry campaign might shape up, and shows how he may be a potent force in both the Republican primary and the general election.
A comparison to this strategy can be drawn to the popular baseball book, soon to be a movie starring Brad Pitt, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game. Moneyball chronicles how a lagging, small-market baseball franchise, the Oakland Athletics, challenged conventional wisdom by relying on stat geeks to produce a winning team on the cheap.
When he was running for Texas lieutenant governor, Perry hooked up with his chief strategist, Dave Carney. The New Hampshire native, who had worked in the campaigns of several fairly moderate Northeast Republicans, decided to take a risk on the brash state agriculture commissioner who epitomized Texas conservatism. More extraordinarily, Carney brought in two Yale political scientists, Alan Gerber and Don Green, to conduct innovative research for the campaign.
Gerber and Green wrote the book Get Out the Vote!, which was a study of campaign marketing techniques using real-world testing and directed, coordinated studies. They studied three main political communication techniques, “mailed postcard, a scripted ring from a call-center employee, and a doorstep visit from a canvasser.”
The findings challenged much of what had previously thought about communication strategies. In fact, they discovered mail and phone call techniques were ineffective, and for the most part, a total waste of money. Even newspaper ads were shown to be highly ineffective. The in-person visit, though, paid huge dividends.
Carney reached out to these two researchers, who had mostly liberal connections with organizations such as ACORN and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, to provide research for Perry’s campaign. Gerber and Green were willing to offer their services because it would help them get information while they were working on a high-level political campaign, that they couldn’t in a classroom or on a small, nonpartisan campaign. They did, however, pick out a few fellow Republican researchers to work directly with Perry’s team.
There could not have been a more dramatically different mix of styles: eggheads from New England, denizens of the ivory tower, working alongside a man who grew up as a farmer, deep in the heart of the Lone Star State.
The eggheads put their research into use. They urged Perry to personally meet constituents in more intimate settings, instead merely appearing to them on video. When he did this, people turned out at much higher levels.
Carney said, “Actual visits make a bigger, more lasting impact than just being on the news. It makes you realize it’s a better use of your time.”
Perry’s effectiveness as a stump speaker also gave this technique a boost. And that factor, of course, calls into question the ability of a less able stump speaker to achieve the same success with a similar campaign.
Although against the advice of campaign traditionalists, ditching the mail and robocall techniques allowed Perry’s campaign to allocate resources more efficiently. This gave him a decided edge in a tough race, where every dollar spent was crucial.
Perry’s campaign even ditched a lot of other strategies that seemed to be highly effective on the surface, but turned out to be fool’s gold.
For instance, while running a campaign ad after a dramatic victory by the Texas University football team gave Perry a bump in the polls immediately in nearly every market it reached, the impact wore off over time. Just a few months later, the entire bounce of the commercial had evaporated.
This seemed to mean that a big television ad should be used to seal the deal in the last few weeks of a campaign, just before the election.
Using the innovative techniques of the eggheads, Perry was able to crush a Republican, Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson, who challenged him in a primary when he was governor. What was pegged to be a tough primary fight turned out to be a 20-point victory for Perry.
Of course the biggest question that readers will want answered is whether or not “Perry’s Eggheads” can achieve the same success on a national level. It will be a difficult task because of the vast size of the country. Personal appearances will hardly be as effective on such a large scale.
Carney takes a few jabs at establishment political operatives who are unwilling to change old habits and unable to fully understand the kind of statistical research that political scientists are doing today.
“No company, no entity, no business, would spend that amount of money without knowing what works. It has a lot to do with the insecurity of political people. No one who gets hired wants to admit they don’t know anything,” Carney said.