During each odd number year, I set a goal to get better at my political science craft. Part of that goal is reading. Odd number year = take advantage of some down time = goal of 50 books related to political consulting. In 2013, I exceeded the goal by 5. #humblebrag
I believe the job of a political consultant is to study how people make decisions and then figure out how to affect the decision making process. This means our area for study is wide and vast.
In attempting to categorize the areas of concentration of my reading, I’ve come up with Behavior Decision Making, Cognitive Brain, Game Theory, Political Psychology, Advertising, Neuromarketing, Branding, Argumentation, and Philosophy.
I would say that this year’s main focus was on attempting to read more about how the brain works, makes decisions, and ways to potentially influence voters.
When people find out about my reading goal, I am often asked for recommendations.
Here you go:
Alex’s Fancy 2013 Top 10 12 Reading List for Political Consultants
(Note: The links provided are NOT affiliate links. They exist only for your convenience.)
Regardless of what the title says, this is not an introduction. There is math, lots of math, lots of advanced math. It is not for the faint of heart, and approximately 57% of the math went over my head. The part I did retain was fantastic.
11. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Pirsig, Robert M.
Read this book on my digital sabbatical. It is a philosophy book, but a classic, welcome relief on a beach weekend.
10. Oxford Handbook of Political Psychology (Oxford Handbooks) Sears, David
A great anthology on political behavior, group relations, theoretical approaches, and change politics. I admit, I only skimmed the International Relations section.
9. The Persuadable Voter: Wedge Issues in Presidential Campaigns, D. Sunshine Hillygus &, Todd G Shields
The science behind wedge issues and cross-over voters.
8. Thinking, Fast and Slow, Kahneman
Additional Reading on the two major systems of the brain.
Behavior Decision Making Theory. A very interesting methodology used by Lau to study how voters actually decide.
I loved, loved, loved this book. In fact, I wrote an entire blog piece about it. Essentially this book tells us that in agreement with cognitive studies that issues mean little in the voters decision making process. Again, a novel methodology to studying the issue.
5. The Gamble: Choice and Chance in the 2012 Presidential Election, Sides, John, Vavreck, Lynn
An absolute must read. This book takes a deep dive in Romney / Obama, separating the “political science truth” from the talk show pundits’ “truths”. If you are interested in the science of politics and what really happened in 2012, you should read this book.
If there was ever a book I read this year that made me read every single footnote, it was this one. This is fascinating stuff, but it also carries over into your clients’ request for “big data.”
3. The Thinker’s Toolkit: 14 Powerful Techniques for Problem Solving, Jones, Morgan D.
While this book contains practical methods to critical thinking, the major revelation in this book is that our minds are liars. This book started my year long journey into biases, cognitive research and humility. If you consider yourself a true political analyst, you must do some meta-thinking about your biases and adopt some methodologies to counter them. If the smartest analysts in the world implement methodologies to attempt to minimize bias, political consultants should also.
2. The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom,Haidt Jonathan
While this book is additional reading into the two major systems of the brain and how our brains fool us, the book’s other key insight is the importance of metaphors. It uses the perfect metaphor for the two system brain: the rider and the elephant. This one metaphor wrapped up all the research and reading of cognitive biases into one simple to understand package; thus stressing the need for metaphors. Eureka moment! It has the added bonus of adding to our understanding of human nature and the concept of happiness.
1. Affective Intelligence and Political Judgment, Marcus, George E.
This was the one book that allowed me to pull together “Alex Patton’s grand unified theory of political communication.” I had just completed reading the book and was ruminating on it while doing a 50 mile bike ride. Then came the Eureka moment, the proverbial lightning strike. I had to stop my bike and find my phone voice recorder as soon as possible. Yes, it was that dramatic. The book is dry and academic, but for me it was the most important book I read this year.
The Prince, Machiavelli, Niccolo
Classic and must be read at least once a year. It is a political consulting law.
Influence, Cialdini, Robert
Another classic, it should absolutely be required reading. Want to learn how to use social proof in politics? This is the start of your journey.
This book significantly changed the way I think about and make sense of the world. It is a discussion of how highly improbable events have massive influence on our lives. Once you read this, you can no longer give ‘guarantees’ and you become aware of the fact that “you don’t know what you don’t know.”
What does screenwriting have to do with politics? EVERYTHING. Political Consultants are story tellers, and there is no better book on the structure of stories and how to tell better ones. Looking how to construct a hero narrative? Look no further, read this.
The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion, Zaller, John
Read this in college, and Zaller’s four axioms have stayed with me ever since. I normally re-read this every other off year for a refresher.
Noting that political consulting has few professional credentials other than reputation, it is imperative that we take ownership of improving our craft. If you are still relying on decades of accumulated rules of thumb, I think you should make a change in your behavior.
Our minds are tricky little devils, and we owe it to our clients to get better.
Happy New year, and I hope the cycle is prosperous for you and your family.
All of these selections and more are included in the Ozean Political Library.