Rick Perry's Not Always Big on Science, But He Did Use It To Win Some Elections

PerryWithaShotGun.jpg
Even Rick Perry doesn't hate science all the time. His uneasy relationship with evolution and global warming notwithstanding, the Man Beneath the Hair understands that sometimes all that brainy shit with the white coats and clipboards can actually benefit him. And that's exactly what happened in his 2006 bid for reelection, when he and his top political strategist Dave Carney allowed a group of scientists to conduct randomized trials to figure out exactly what campaigning strategies work best.

The scientists structured their research the way drug companies do -- trying different campaign methods and including a control group -- to figure out what voters respond to most strongly. Phone calls from campaign volunteers? Signs on lawns? Candidates actually visiting their town? The way these tests were conducted, and what worked best, are the subjects of a new e-book, Rick Perry and his Eggheads: Inside the Brainiest Political Operation in America, by journalist Sasha Issenberg.

The e-book is actually a chapter from Issenberg's full book on "the new science of winning elections," as he puts it, about how analytical tools like randomized trials are revolutionizing the way campaigns are run. The book, The Victory Lab, is due out in September of 2012.

But given the rest of the country's sudden, fervent interest in our governor, the Perry chapter was released on its own in late August, turning the 31-year-old East Coaster into "an accidental Perry expert," as he put it when we spoke this week.

"This is still a totally exceptional story, what the Perry folks did," said Issenberg, who's written for The New York Times, Philadelphia magazine, the Boston Globe and Slate. "As best I know, there are no other instances of a candidate campaign doing this kind of experimenting the way Perry did it."

And, sure, Issenberg will be the first to admit he's benefited from good timing. "I'd reported and largely written this to work as a book chapter," he explained. "And I had it sitting on my hard drive as he made the decision to run. I think it'd be a lot harder for someone to crack that circle now and get them to talk."

Not that Perry's campaign meant for the experiments to be hush-hush. Carney read a book in 2006 by pioneering election scientists Alan Gerber and Don Green. The book, Get Out the Vote!, tried to answer some of these same questions. As it turned out, in-person visits worked best, mail was much less effective, and phone calls didn't work at all. But both scientists were frustrated that they hadn't had more opportunity to work with real-world campaigns.

So Carney approached them with a deal: Run their experiments on Perry's campaign. When it ended, and only then, they could publish their research wherever they wanted. "This wasn't supposed to be secret forever," Issenberg said.

Carney was mainly bugged by the amount of waste in campaigns, the fact that millions of dollars in fundraising often goes to methods whose efficacy is questionable, like sign planting.

"There is no really good way, short of these randomized experiments, to measure the effect" of these things, Issenberg told Unfair Park. "And the culture of campaigns is not structured to even be skeptical of them -- that's the thing that got to Carney over the years."

But hiring the scientists was still a daring move. First, they were from Yale, of all places.

"No political campaign had ever extended such authority to academic outsiders," Issenberg writes, "and it was all the more surprising because Perry's exuberant anti-elitism was quite specific in its disdain for Ivy League credentials. 'You don't have to have a PhD from Harvard in political science to understand our economics,' he'd say."

Also, Gerber and Green's previous research had always been with liberal groups, like ACORN and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. But the campaign ended up hiring two GOP-approved election scientists to work with the Yale-ites: Daron Shaw and James Gimpel. Shaw was hired by Karl Rove to consult on George W. Bush's first gubernatorial campaign, while Gimpel was a consultant for the Republican National Committee.

The testing by the quartet of scientists found that the thing that bumped poll numbers the most was when Perry visited a town and gave an in-person stump speech. In every market where he did this, the local media coverage was almost always positive, and his approval ratings went up. Unlike the slight boosts he saw from TV ads, visiting a given market created a lead that Perry held onto week after week. Perry was reelected in 2007, in a year when Republicans lost control of both houses of Congress and many gubernatorial elections nationwide. In his next campaign, the 2010 gubernatorial primary against Kay Bailey Hutchinson, Perry's camp used the same methods and saved an estimated $3 million while beating Hutchison by more than twenty points.

The question of how much you can "universalize" Perry's election results in 2006 and 2010 is still open, Issenberg said. Issues such as the economy and voters' feelings about Obama are probable going to be much bigger factors in a general election.

As Issenberg put it: "If Perry looks like he's outside the ideological mainstream, especially in swing states, it doesn't matter how good their science is."

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34 comments
Diane Birdwell
Diane Birdwell

Wow, I learned this in 1978 in college as a freshman in Political Science. All politics is local, and face time beats any other way of communicaiton. Duh. I mean, really, duh...

Paul
Paul

To me this just points out why I do not like Gov. Perry as a politician.  Doing this kind of market research to find out what a majority of likely voters are willing to vote for and then campaigning to that segment is nothing more than pandering.

It demonstrates to me that Gov. Perry really has no convictions other than to obtain additional political power by being elected to a higher political office.

I am waiting for someone on the campaign trail to point out his stint as the state campaign manager for Al Gore's presidential campaign in TX.

"Next time I tell you not to elect a governor from Texas as President, will you believe me?" - Molly Ivins

I was there
I was there

Right. It took Yale profs to figure out how to campaign and that gave Perry the edge. Right.  

How he actually won was he just took a page from George W. Bush's playbook and election for Governor over Ann Richards. 

The battlegrounds were rural conservative democrats and what we called then 'soccer moms'. Bush travelled to almost, if not all, 256 counties to gather the rural dems and connected well with the soccer moms. All took incredible work - and constant travellling to meet the voters. From pancake breakfasts, to ladies luncheons, to endless 'meet the candidate' BBQ's, that eye-to-eye campaigning is what won. 

In fact the numbers were so good, by August he had the election won and there was great fear of peaking too early. Reports had Richards and her team shocked on election night at the 'upset', but in reality the campaign was a well-oiled machine with a savvy candidate who good easily connect with the people while the incumbent played the aloof-liberal motorcycle mama and a candidate Texans' just thought was out of step with their values.How do I know all this?  I was there every step of the way.

ALAMODEFENDER
ALAMODEFENDER

Evolution is the preferred "science," um,theory of liberals because it relies on atheism,which is the keystone to indoctrination.Liberals say you can't prove creationism,while they can't prove evolution.(hypocrites) The missing link is still missing.

mynameisURL
mynameisURL

LOL. That pic of Perry with the combat helmet makes him look like John Larroquette as Capt. Stillman in "Stripes".

I wonder how his hair is doing under there.

Paul
Paul

In other areas this is called a marketing survey ... well I ain't buying ...

"Next time I tell you not to elect a governor from Texas as President, will you believe me?" - Molly Ivins

MattL1
MattL1

This is off-topic, and I know I mention this often, but is there a picture that exists of Rick Perry in which he is NOT within arms-reach of a deadly weapon?  Or is that just The Observer being funny?  I'm not against the latter, but if the former ends up being the case, that's just disturbing.

Phelps
Phelps

The thing is, evolution isn't relevant 99% of the time, and AGW isn't falsifiable.  There ain't nothing more falsifiable than an election -- when you lose, you lose and you know it.

DoubleOJoe
DoubleOJoe

"You don't have to have a PhD from Harvard in political science to understand our economics" said Perry.

No, but one in Economics would work pretty well. 

Paul
Paul

Galileo was branded as a heretic for claiming that the Earth and other planets revolved around the sun.

In his defense, Galileo is claimed to have said that: "The Bible teaches man how to go to Heaven, not how the heavens go."

The Catholic Church has since retracted the statement that Galileo was heretic.

Many monastic orders of the Catholic Faith, such as the Jesuits (formerly thought of as the Pope's personal enforcers on matters of faith), Cistercians, Dominicans, among others, are of the belief that through science they can better understand the mystery of God's creation of the world.  Humans are thought to be a unique part of God's creation through self awareness among other traits.

Some of the Catholic theologians that I am friends with see no conflict between Darwin's Theory of Evolution and their belief that God created the world and man.  One of these concepts is that God created a universe where a sentient being will come into being and begin on a journey to discover God's plan for the world.

Just remember that there is a difference between faith and religion.  Faith is a belief in a divine being who created the world and life which cannot be proved by wordly evidence other than by "hoc ergo sum" argument.  Religion is the outward practice of faith in a creator.

nullcodes
nullcodes

Even the Catholic church agrees that evolution could be the correct. It's not incompatible with religion .. the Bible is not to be taken literally .. God may have created the universe via the Big Bang 13 something billion years ago (or whatever event, whenever billions of years ago) and made the laws of physics and the physical constants (such as the fine structure constant and the universal Gravitation constant) such that it allows the conditions to come about for evolution and the eventual rise of man. There's just a an overwhelming amount of geological, biological, and astronomical evidence in favor of a universe that's billions of years old. I mean you can easily verify that some stars in our own galaxy are a thousands light years away (if they were created recently, their light wouldn't have reached us yet).. and galaxies are found from a few millions to billions of light years away.

Crusher
Crusher

"because it relies on atheism"......no, it doesn't. Many scientists are Christian, although you would be hard pressed to find a non-Christian scientist who DIDN'T believe in evolution. Evolution is NOT incompatible with believing in God."Liberals say you can't prove creationism".......so, are you saying you CAN? Please enlighten us. Cretinists like you want us to believe that a magic man who lives in outer space just "poofed" the universe into existence, then for some reason had to create man out of dirt, and then a woman from a rib........boy, that sounds a lot like mythology.

Evolution is a FACT. Period. There is plenty of proof including an ever expanding fossil record, which Science deniers like you want to ignore because it spoils your little fantasy. 

History has taught us one important thing. Science ALWAYS triumphs over fear and superstition., which is what your religion is based on. Religion wanted us to think that there was a supernatural explanation for things like, oh thunder and lightning, or that someone having a seizure was possesed by demons. SCIENCE-1. RELIGION-ZERO

Ever notice how religionists are only going after evolution? Not the theory of gravity, string theory or quantum mechanics. Funny, that.

What Christ Cons want is for education to be replaced with religion, for science to be replaced with superstition and for everyone to live in fear. Liberals want progress. Cons want to take us back to the dark ages.

Science has given us all the medical and communications technology we have today. Religion? ZILCH. ZERO. NOTHING. It's given us frothing panderers like Rick Perry who think we can pray for rain and that saying magic spells with a bunch of other convulsing, hysterical idiots in a stadium actually yields results.

I have an idea....if you get cancer, don't go to a doctor. Just "pray it away." Then we'll see how real your silly god is.

Hoss
Hoss

 Strawman argument. Evolution has nothing to do with the existence of a god. Care to show us where it "relies on atheism?" It also has nothing to do with political affiliation, although you need to frame it that way to support your strawman. I guess the worlds scientists are so stupid they are overlooking some flaw in evolutionary theory that you can somehow see?

Michael C
Michael C

Ah yes.... "atheism is the keystone to indoctrination".

Because obviously there is NO indoctrination where religion is concerned.

Phelps
Phelps

Ahh, yes, Molly Ivins.  Like Reagan, no one on the left liked anything she said until she was dead and she couldn't say that they are full of shit when they quote her.

ALAMODEFENDER
ALAMODEFENDER

Matt grew up in a big city with no trees,or forests or guns,poor baby doesn't know how to handle a gun safely so they are known to him only as "deadly weapons." Stay in touch with your feminine side Matty.

mynameisURL
mynameisURL

Probably lots of coyotes nearby. I've heard Austin is lousy with 'em.

jfpo
jfpo

I would imagine that as soon as a photo of Perry hits the Internets sans weapon, his crack team of science lawyers ensures its removal. Especially during a campaign.

drklassen
drklassen

Evolution is relevant in 100% of the medical and pharmaceutical research in this country.  Dismissing it means you lose all that.

AGW is easily falsifiable.  Come up with a better model for the increasing global temperatures and, boom, falsified.  That is, it's just science.

drklassen
drklassen

One minor fix: we don't "believe" in evolution.  We accept it.  Based on the facts (data) that support it, that the idea explains all the facts to date, and makes verifiable experimental predictions.  No "belief" needed.

I save my belief for my religion.

DoubleOJoe
DoubleOJoe

It never pays to feed the trolls.

Crusher
Crusher

Boy, someone makes a joke about Rick Perry using the words 'deadly weapon" and you go Cons ballistic. You sound so angry. 

Why do you feel the need to try and belittle another person??  Why are you claiming to know details about the life of a total stranger??  Is this something you learned from the bible?

Hoss
Hoss

Typical Con. Judging. Trolling. Making childish attempts at being inflammatory to a complete stranger. I'm gonna make a big leap here and guess that you're probably christian too.

MattL1
MattL1

All G-rated, I hope...

MattL1
MattL1

Of course they do.  After all, what are science lawyers for?

Phelps
Phelps

The president isn't doing research.

And a hypothesis isn't falsified by showing a different correct answer.  That isn't how science works.  A wrong answer is wrong, regardless of whether or not we have the right answer in hand.

Phelps
Phelps

Right, because showing nothing but pictures of Perry and guns are not judging, trolling, childish attempts at being inflammatory.

Anna Merlan
Anna Merlan

If you've got bikini pictures of the governor and you've been holding out on us, I'm going to feel personally betrayed. 

Phelps
Phelps

None of the models have made accurate predictions.  They have already been falsified.  The predictions made by AGW did not pan out.  One of the major predictions was "global temperature will rise as concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere rise."  A direct correlation was a vital part of the theory, and it failed to happen.

If I make a simulation that shows that zombies will take over the world, you don't disprove my model by making a better model showing us all turning into unicorns.  You disprove it by showing that zombies aren't real.

Janet
Janet

No.  That's not what falsifiable means.  It has nothing at all to do with other hyptheses. 

A hypothesis or theory is falsifiable if you can list specific potential real events that disprove it.  So with respect to global warming, if you accept that a period of say 40 years of future cooling temperatures would disprove it, then it is falsifiable.   If you think that even 100 years of temperatures gradually cooling on their own means that the excess heat is just hiding somewhere and it's really still getting warmer, then the hypothesis or theory of global warming is not falsifiable and not a scientifc theory but a religious or philosophical belief.

And, for what it's worth, whether or not people are indirectly responsible for global warming is completely irrelevant.  What's important is whether it is cyclic and will cool off on its own or whether--assuming that warming is bad and not good--we should try to fix it.  Calling it anthropogenic is not only silly but interferes with finding a solution to the problem. 

Truth_Truther
Truth_Truther

A hypothesis is, however, falsified by showing not just a different correct answer, but a more and better correct answer.  If someone came up with a better model for AGW, the model would be judged better by showing the current model was actually wrong in certain situations.  That's what it means to have a better model, it's right more and wrong less.

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