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The Gamble

The Gamble: Choice and Chance in the 2012 Presidential Election

John Sides
Lynn Vavreck
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    The Gamble
    Book Description:

    "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.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4800-3
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Figures and Tables
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    Charles T. Myers

    Many books are written about presidential elections. Journalists typically write the first accounts after the election. Too often the work of political scientists on this election follows years later, coming out when journalists and politicians are deep into the weeds of the next election. This means that common interpretations of what happened in a particular election and broader analyses of electoral politics outside the academy do not reflect the research done by political scientists because this work comes out too late or is too technical in its presentation.

    To some extent blogging has helped bring the views of political scientists...

    (pp. xv-xx)
  6. CHAPTER 1 Ante Up
    (pp. 1-10)

    Here is a number: 68. That is how many moments were described as “gamechangers” in the 2012 presidential election, according to an exhaustive search by Tim Murphy, a reporter at Mother Jones magazine. A few of these allegedly game-changing moments were cited in jest. The writer for the Celebritology blog at the Washington Post joked that the troubled actress Lindsay Lohan’s endorsement of Mitt Romney could be a game-changer. A few of these moments were plausibly important, like the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. But the rest of the list is comprised largely of blips that failed to transform...

  7. CHAPTER 2 The Hand You’re Dealt
    (pp. 11-31)

    Thirteen days after he was inaugurated, Barack Obama sat down for an interview with NBC’s Matt Lauer. Lauer asked about the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) that had been passed under President George W. Bush and whether its use of federal money to shore up ailing banks and financial institutions would “fix the economy.” The following exchange ensued:

    President Obama: Look, I’m at the start of my administration. One nice thing about—the situation I find myself in is that I will be held accountable. You know, I’ve got four years. And—

    Matt Lauer: You’re gonna know quickly how...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Random, or Romney?
    (pp. 32-63)

    During the Republican presidential primary, someone keeping up with the news might have concluded that Mitt Romney was doomed from the start. He was hopelessly out of step with his party and the Tea Party movement, having converted only recently to party orthodoxy on abortion and same-sex marriage and having championed reform to the Massachusetts health care system that became the literal model for “Obamacare.” He even endorsed TARP and a government stimulus in response to the 2008 recession and financial crisis. Conservative blogger Erick Erickson said that if Romney were to win the nomination, “conservatism dies.”¹ Moreover, Romney’s Mormonism...

  9. CHAPTER 4 All In
    (pp. 64-96)

    The Pizza Ranch in Altoona, Iowa, sits amid a long series of strip malls. When we arrived at 5 PM on January 2, 2012, the eve of the Iowa caucus, Rick Santorum was due to appear in an hour. Carl Cameron of Fox News was the first person we encountered—deeply tanned with pancake makeup, talking seriously into his microphone. The second person was a man selling Santorum buttons, three for $10. We bought some. We grabbed a table in the back, ordered a pizza, and waited for Santorum to arrive.

    A second, smaller dining room had been set aside...

  10. CHAPTER 5 High Rollers
    (pp. 97-140)

    On April 9, 2012, Jann Wenner and Eric Bates, the publisher and editor of Rolling Stone magazine, interviewed Barack Obama. It was, they could not help but note, the “longest and most substantive interview the president had granted in over a year.” Before the interview began, Wenner and Bates gave Obama a gift. Obama knew immediately what it was. The last time Wenner had interviewed him, Obama had commented on his flashy socks. This time Wenner came prepared, giving Obama two pairs, one “salmon with pink squares” and one with “black and pink stripes.” Obama liked them—“These are nice”...

  11. CHAPTER 6 The Action
    (pp. 141-173)

    It was the week before their national convention, and Republicans were worried. Romney had not put a significant dent in Obama’s lead, which was narrow but seemingly durable. John Boehner had argued a couple months before that Romney’s image was secondary to the president’s economic performance, saying, “The American people probably aren’t going to fall in love with Mitt Romney,” but some Republicans were beginning to think Romney’s image needed an overhaul.¹ At such moments, anonymous “party strategists” always come out of the woodwork, and August 2012 was no exception. On August 28, the first day of the convention, Politico’s...

  12. CHAPTER 7 The Winning Hand
    (pp. 174-225)

    Why did Barack Obama win the 2012 presidential election? Was it that he ran a “great campaign” or even a “formidable campaign”—one with “a much more potent organizational arsenal than in 2008”? Or was it something specific that he did? Was it that he “articulated a set of values that define an America that the majority of us wish to live in”? Was it “spending an enormous amount of money to discredit Romney in the swing states” during the spring and summer? Or maybe Obama just gave “gifts” to crucial constituencies like “the African-American community, the Hispanic community, and...

  13. CHAPTER 8 Cashing In
    (pp. 226-242)

    A few weeks after the election, conservative activists filled a ballroom to hear newly elected Texas senator Ted Cruz muse on the election. Cruz lit into Mitt Romney, praising him as a “man of character” but saying this about Romney’s references to the “47 percent”: “I cannot think of an idea more antithetical to the American principles this country was founded on.” Out in the room, the mood was bleak. One lobbyist said, “Oh yes, we are all very sad. Some of us have turned to drugs; others are in therapy.” Public opinion polls confirmed that a little therapy might...

  14. Appendixes
    (pp. 243-272)
  15. NOTES
    (pp. 273-322)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 323-331)