President's Dream Colloquium on Engaging Big Data

Speaker: Sasha Issenberg

The Victory Lab: New trends in the secret science of big data mining and models to win political campaigns

Sasha Issenberg, Journalist
Author of The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns
Tuesday, January 12, 2016, 3:30–5 pm
IRMACS Theatre, ASB 10900, Burnaby campus


Talk Highlights

Welcome by Catherine Murray - 0:00
Opening remarks by President Petter - 2:02
Acknowledgment and Thanks by Catherine Murray - 8:44
Speaker Introduction by Catherine Murray - 10:00

Sasha Issenberg’s Lecture
Introduction - 13:29
“Geeks”: The new campaign workers -16:04
Two strands of innovation: Randomized control trials & Big Data - 18:01
History of voter databases in US - 19:56
Statistical modeling to predict outcomes - 28:38
Predictive scoring to assess voters - 32:35
The Obama campaign strategy - 34:55
The consequences of political marketing -  37:19
Problems big data poses for political journalism - 39:46

Mark Pickup’s Lecture
Big Data in Canadian politics: What we know - 46:32
Data collection and Canadian privacy laws - 48:45
How Canadian parties use predictive scores - 51:44
Connecting online information to offline data - 53:41
Caution: Microtargeting & voter mobilization - 54:24
Caution: Privacy concerns - 57:16
Caution: Emulating the US - 57:48
Caution: Big data assumptions - 59:06


Sasha Issenberg is a journalist and author of The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns. The book, which Politico called “Moneyball for politics,” explores the analytical revolution — involving randomized-control trials borrowed from the academic social sciences and statistical-model and data-mining techniques inspired by corporate marketing — that have upended the practice of 21st-century electioneering.

Issenberg reported from 38 states and six countries while covering the 2008 election as a national political reporter in the Washington bureau of The Boston Globe. 

In 2012, as a columnist for Slate, he adopted a narrower, more purposeful brief: focussing on the innovative mechanics — particularly the use of data, experiments and advanced analytics — that were transforming the way candidates sought the presidency but were largely ignored by other media coverage.

He was also a staff writer at Philadelphia magazine, and his work has also appeared in New York, The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Monthly, The Atlantic, Fast Company, Inc., Boston, The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times and MIT’s Technology Review. He is now the Washington correspondent for iwhere he previously served as Americas editor and has covered global politics, business, diplomacy, and culture.                                 


The science of data-driven electioneering is advancing rapidly in the US and spreading around the world. Sasha Issenberg takes us inside the 'secret' science of big political data in campaign design and implementation and how it is exploited by Democrats and Republicans in the run up to the next presidential election.

A blend of corporate and political market research practice, qualitative and experimental design, effective campaigns now rely on hypersegmentation with very large databases(180 million for the Democratic Party alone). To what effect? Contemporary political market intelligence may produce outcomes where some voters may be silenced, but others are more effectively heard. How this plays out in the US is contrasted with Canadian experience in the 2015 federal election. Specialists in text analytics, computational advertising, online experiments are having a field day on the political playground, but what may be the revenge of the citizen?

Dr. Mark Pickup, Political Science comments on Sasha Issenberg's presentation and speaks about the 2015 Canadian election experience and the principal issues in big database marketing in politics. Mark Pickup's research focuses on political information, election campaigns and the methodology of longitudinal data with Bayesian analysis.