The Gamble: Choice and Chance in the 2012 Presidential Election

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9780691156880: The Gamble: Choice and Chance in the 2012 Presidential Election


"Game changer." We heard it so many times during the 2012 U.S. presidential election. But what actually made a difference in the contest--and what was just hype? In this groundbreaking book, John Sides and Lynn Vavreck tell the dramatic story of the election--with a big difference. Using an unusual "moneyball" approach, they look beyond the anecdote, folklore, and conventional wisdom that often pass for election analysis. Instead, they draw on extensive quantitative data about the economy, public opinion, news coverage, and political advertising to separate what was truly important from what was irrelevant. Combining this data with the best social science research and colorful on-the-ground reporting, they provide the most accurate and precise account of the election yet written--and the only book of its kind.


Which mattered more--Barack Obama's midsummer ad blitz or the election year's economic growth? How many voters actually changed their minds--and was it ever enough to sway the outcome? The Gamble answers important questions like these by looking at the interplay between the candidates' strategic choices--the ads, speeches, rallies, and debates--and the chance circumstances of the election, especially the economy. In the Republican primary, the book shows, the electioneering and the media's restless attention did matter, producing a string of frontrunners. But when Obama and Mitt Romney finally squared off in the general election, there were few real game-changers. The candidates' billion-dollar campaigns were important but largely cancelled each other out, opening the way for Obama to do what incumbents usually do when running amid even modest economic growth: win.


An election book unlike any other, The Gamble is a must-read for political junkies, analysts, journalists, consultants, and academics.


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From the Inside Flap:

"Conventional campaign books portray a fantasy world shaped by brilliant strategists and dramatic events. Sides and Vavreck have invented a new genre--in-the-moment electoral analysis grounded in first-rate political science. Read their book to understand why Barack Obama was reelected, and get your fantasy fix from Game of Thrones."--Larry M. Bartels, author of Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age

"In their lively and insightful account of what really happened in the 2012 presidential campaign, Sides and Vavreck replace wild conjecture about gaffes and undecided voters with hard data and broad context. If you want to understand the dynamics of presidential campaigns, turn off the cable shows and read this book."--Alan S. Gerber, Yale University

"Sides and Vavreck have invented an important new genre of campaign book, perfect for our age of accelerated media. Observers of American politics will relish The Gamble for its fresh research and authoritative analysis, even if my fellow journalists resent it for demonstrating how often we got the story wrong."--Sasha Issenberg, author of The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns

"John Sides and Lynn Vavreck have done something remarkable: They've managed to not just report on the 2012 election in real time, but research it in real time, too. They've solved the problem that bedevils those of us in journalism: How to actually know what you're talking about when you're talking about something as fluid and fast-moving as a presidential election. This book should change how we cover campaigns."--Ezra Klein, columnist, The Washington Post

"Sides and Vavreck have done more to bridge the worlds of campaign reporting and political science than any other academics working today. The Gamble, their penetrating and accessible study of the 2012 presidential election, is mandatory reading for anyone who cares about American politics."--Ryan Lizza, Washington Correspondent, The New Yorker

"The 2012 election was when 'Moneyball' defeated 'Game Change'--and Sides and Vavreck explain why political scientists and number-crunchers were able to forecast the results well in advance, while the conventional wisdom was so often wrong. The Gamble is crisply written, comprehensively researched, and carefully argued. It provides the definitive account of what really happened and what really mattered in the campaign."--Nate Silver, author of The Signal and the Noise

About the Author:

John Sides is associate professor of political science at George Washington University and the coauthor of Campaigns and Elections (Norton). He cofounded and contributes to The Monkey Cage, a politics blog. Lynn Vavreck is associate professor of political science and communications at the University of California, Los Angeles. Her books include The Message Matters: The Economy and Presidential Campaigns (Princeton). She cofounded and contributes to the Model Politics blog.

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