Rick Perry’s scientific campaign strategy: Meet the governor’s ‘eggheads’

Chris Moody
Political Reporter
The Ticket

Rick Perry doesn't waste time when he's on the trail. And he's got the data to prove it.

For his last two campaigns for governor of Texas, Perry adopted a scientific approach to campaigning, using measurements taken by a small group of academics to guide his every move. In a new e-book released today, Rick Perry and his Eggheads: Inside the Brainiest Political Operation in America, Sasha Issenberg chronicles Perry's data-based approach that guided whether he would pay to print yard signs or fly to Lubbock for a campaign event.

The e-book is an excerpt from Issenberg's forthcoming book, The Victory Lab, which examines what it will take to win a campaign in the 21st century. The e-book chronicles the rise of Perry chief strategist Dave Carney, who persuaded the governor and newly declared Republican presidential candidate to loop four intellectuals--whom campaign workers dubbed the "eggheads"--into his 2006 re-election campaign to perform market research.

The eggheads measured the effectiveness of virtually everything on the campaign trail--from the time Perry spent at a small town to whether he should run ads in newspapers.

"Together they built a multiyear experimental regime to question and test nearly every function of the modern electoral campaign," Issenberg writes, "down to the effectiveness of the humble lawn sign."

The toughest part, Issenberg says, was convincing Perry's longtime campaign consultants to play ball with the eggheads in the first place. Maximizing time and effort means rooting out wasteful spending, and the eggheads found that the campaign was throwing away money on several campaign strategies.

At a campaign retreat before Perry's 2006 re-election campaign, the eggheads basically told a group of consultants and strategists that their techniques were little more than a waste of time. It was like "going into the Catholic church telling everyone that Mary wasn't a virgin, and Jesus really wasn't her son," Carney tells Issenberg.

"Either the eggheads are right or you're right," Carney told one consultant. "We're going to prove it out, and plan our campaign and allow these guys to develop experiments for everything we do."

Perry squashed his primary challenger in 2010 by 20 points and went on to win the general election.

"No candidate has ever presided over a political operation so skeptical about the effectiveness of basic campaign tools and so committed to using social-science methods to rigorously test them," Issenberg said in an interview with the New York Times.

The e-book is on sale for 99 cents at TheVictoryLab.com.