Political Campaign Strategy: Read these books to get a strategic edge

by Elena Veatch

row of old books

Political Campaign Strategy: Read Up!

To build an effective political campaign strategy, you need to understand the landscape your campaign is operating in. While talking to voters is always going to be the best way to get to know the issues that drive your community (and the larger American electorate), books are another great resource to inform your approach to politics. Below are five reads I recommend for any politico who’s running, working on, or volunteering for a political campaign.

1. Identity Crisis: The 2016 Presidential Campaign and the Battle for the Meaning of America (John Sides, Michael Tesler, and Lynn Vavreck)

In the wake of senseless police brutality, folks across our country are demanding an end to systemic, institutionalized racism. Political scientists John Sides, Michael Tesler, and Lynn Vavreck would not be surprised to see that liberals are largely driving this conversation. In their book Identity Crisis, they discuss how Trump’s campaign and presidency have shifted American public opinion toward more favorable views of racial, ethnic, and religious minorities—a trend driven mostly by the left. Trump’s appeals to implicit biases, in other words, have both empowered bigots and compelled anti-racists to action, serving as one of the main factors of division in our country. In shaping your political campaign strategy, remember that your campaign can help shape the conversation in your community. As these political scientists aptly put it: 

  • “Political leaders… can call someone un-American or a ‘son of a bitch’ or ‘deplorable.’  They can call someone’s country a ‘shithole.’ They can tell us to ‘beat the crap’ out of someone they disagree with. They can also ask us to welcome others, to find common ground, and even to heal the country. These choices are what helped build the identity crisis in American politics. They are also what can help take it apart.”

2. Why We’re Polarized (Ezra Klein)

Vox co-founder and editor-at-large Ezra Klein’s 2020 book argues that our American political system is working just as it was designed to function—as an intensifier of partisan polarization. In building your political campaign strategy, consider Klein’s take on psychology. He provides a helpful rundown of the realignment of our electorate in the wake of the Civil Rights Act, followed by a deep dive into the factors that continue to strengthen our ideological entrenchment across the aisle. If you understand how people think and form opinions (as this book will help you do), you can do a better job of convincing them to support your candidate or cause. As Klein says:

  • “Our political identities have become mega-identities. The merging of the identities means when you activate one you often activate all, and each time they’re activated, they strengthen.”

3. Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber (Mike Isaac)

You need not limit your search for lessons in politics to books about political campaigns. Super Pumped digs into Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s rise and downfall, sharing insights that every politico should keep in mind in building a political campaign strategy. The moral of this story is: a good idea is never enough to effect change. A toxic culture that stems from a great idea can and should unravel a promising venture. Work to build campaigns that are inspiring, inclusive, and adaptive. Your staff are the heart of your campaign—value them if you hope to build the better world you envision.

4. The Righteous Mind (Jonathan Haidt)

Feelings shape our moral judgments, which in turn determine the lens through which we react to politics and the world around us. I’m a big proponent of Jonathan Haidt’s assertion that we need to understand the moral frames that drive the people we know and love. Moral foundations theory shows a lot of promise for finding ways to transcend partisan identity to persuade the other side. The fact is, conservatives do a better job of employing different frames to appeal to a wider range of voters. In shaping your political campaign strategy, think about how you can engage people who might not immediately agree with your worldview.

5. Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72 (Hunter S. Thompson)
Hunter Thompson’s vivid, rambling account of the 1972 election is endlessly entertaining in its scathing critiques of Nixon and the slate of Democrats looking to challenge his re-election bid. The gonzo journalist laments that candidates too often fail to present voters with a real choice, leading them to resort to voting against someone rather than voting for someone. This book was ahead of its time—consider its wisdom to ensure that your campaign knows exactly what it stands for.

Do you have other book recommendations for folks who are shaping their political campaign strategy? How about books that will give politicos a much-needed break from our fast-paced world? Be sure to drop us a line.