No Place for Amateurs: How Political Consultants are Reshaping American Democracy

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9780415928366: No Place for Amateurs: How Political Consultants are Reshaping American Democracy

This work details the skills, strategies, and methods - and the extraordinary resources these require - to provide an expose of the highly sophisticated techniques used to reach and persuade voters.

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Review:

For anybody considering a career in politics, No Place for Amateurs is a thorough description of what goes on behind the scenes. "While candidates are ultimately responsible for their campaigns, there is no way they can compete, let alone win, without professional help," writes Dennis W. Johnson. He ought to know: in addition to working as a campaign consultant himself, Johnson is the associate dean at George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management. On these pages, he describes everything that goes into a campaign, from fundraising to opposition research to handling the media. And he doesn't shy away from details. In a chapter on polling and public opinion, for instance, he describes how "a well-financed statewide campaign" would want to begin with a "benchmark survey" a year before the election, followed by focus groups to "explore in greater depth the responses given in the benchmark survey." Four or five months later would come "trend surveys" to see what impact the campaigns have had on public opinion. Ideas for commercials then would undergo "dial meter analysis" to test their effectiveness. Finally, tracking polls in the final weeks would try to gauge "late trends and movements of public preferences."

Taken as a whole, No Place for Amateurs reads like a how-to guide for campaigns. It never really delivers what it promises in the subtitle--an analysis of how political professionals have come to have such a great role in modern politics--but that's OK, because it does acknowledge their presence and describe what they do. There may, in fact, be a greater need for the book Johnson actually has written, and it must be required reading at his school. It's full of anecdotes, too, which provide real-world examples of how campaigns work. Less effective are Johnson's descriptions of fictional races, although they may help him make key points more sharply than if they were based on real experiences. Political pros often say the best way to learn about campaigns is to work on one. That's probably true, but it might also be a good idea to read this book before taking even that first step. --John J. Miller

About the Author:

Dennis W. Johnson is the Associate Dean of the Graduate School of Public Management at George Washington University. He has over a decade's worth of experience consulting on congressional and gubernatorial campaigns, including work with top political consultants Bob Squier, Peter Hart, and James Carville.

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Johnson, Dennis W.
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