Politics & Polls #159: Strategizing for the 2020 Election Featuring Joel Benenson

Oct 31 2019
By Brillian Bao
Source Woodrow Wilson School

Newly released polls show wide-ranging political scenarios, but reading the electorate can be hard. What exactly is going on and what might pundits and media be getting wrong?

In this week’s episode, Joel Benenson discusses his work on four presidential campaigns with Sam Wang and Julian Zelizer. Benenson argues for tempered media coverage of these campaigns, suggesting the key to winning an election centers around addressing people’s lived experiences and economic struggles.

Benenson is the founder and CEO of the Benenson Group and one of the leading strategists in the world for campaigns. He is an award-winning researcher and pollster who helped run President Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns. He also played a critical role in Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton’s 2016 campaign and President Bill Clinton’s 1996 campaign and is currently working on Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s 2020 campaign. Benenson was named “Pollster of the Year” by the American Association of Political Consultants. He previously worked as a journalist for the New York Daily News, communications director for Governor Cuomo, and vice president at FCB, a global advertising agency.


Wang is a professor at Princeton University, appointed in neuroscience with affiliate appointments in the Program in Law and Public Affairs and the Center for Information Technology Policy. An alumnus of Caltech, where he received a B.S. with honors in physics, he went on to earn a Ph.D. in neuroscience from the Stanford University School of Medicine. He conducted postdoctoral research at Duke University Medical Center and at Bell Labs Lucent Technologies. He has also worked on science and education policy for the U.S. Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources. He is noted for his application of data analytics and poll aggregation to American politics. He is leading an effort at the Princeton Gerrymandering Project to build a 50-state data resource for legislative-quality citizen redistricting. His work to define a state-level legal theory to limit partisan gerrymandering recently won Common Cause’s Gerrymandering Standard Writing Contest. His neuroscience research concerns how the brain learns from sensory experience in early life, adulthood and autism.

Zelizer has been among the pioneers in the revival of American political history. He is the Malcolm Stevenson Forbes, Class of 1941 Professor of History and Public Affairs at Princeton University and a CNN political analyst. He has written more than 900 op-eds, including his popular weekly column for CNN.com and The Atlantic. This year, he is the distinguished senior fellow at the New York Historical Society, where he is writing a biography of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel for Yale University's Jewish Lives Series. He is the author and editor of more than 19 books including, “The Fierce Urgency of Now: Lyndon Johnson, Congress, and the Battle for the Great Society,” the winner of the D.B. Hardeman Prize for the Best Book on Congress. In January 2019, Norton published his new book, co-authored with Kevin Kruse, “Fault Lines: A History of the United States Since 1974.” In spring 2020, Penguin Press will publish his other book, “Burning Down the House: Newt Gingrich, The Fall of a Speaker, and the Rise of the New Republican Party.” He has received fellowships from the Brookings Institution, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Russell Sage Foundation and New America.