UCLA political scientist Lynn Vavreck is joining a team of reporters, analysts and other contributors who will be posting to a new website on politics and policy in The New York Times that will launch in the spring with a focus on demystifying politics, economics, health care and other issues with data.
Vavreck is an associate professor of political science and communication studies who is known for relying on sophisticated statistical analyses to parse data. She will contribute at least one column every other week to the new, as-yet-to-be-named online feature. Some of the columns will appear in the print edition as well.
In a tweet announcing Vavreck’s role, former Times Washington, D.C., bureau chief David Leonhardt, who will lead the project, called her a “great translator of politics and debunker of myths.”
Vavreck, a frequent blogger, author of op-eds and media commentator, expressed enthusiasm about her new role.
“I'm very excited,” said Vavreck, who joined UCLA’s faculty in 2009. “There’s an increasing demand for data-driven journalism. Reporters don’t always have the time, data or training to dig into a problem in this way. Scholars and analysts [do], but we rarely have the opportunity to reach a public audience. So this seems like the perfect combination.”
Vavreck will be joined at the blog by Times journalists and outside contributors. Among them will be Sendil Mullainathan, a Harvard professor of economics and author of the 2013 bestseller, “Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much.” Also joining the new venture will be Brendan Nyhan, an assistant professor of government at Dartmouth College, media critic for the Columbia Journalism Review and co-author of the 2004 bestseller, “All the President’s Spin: George W. Bush, the Media, and the Truth.” Other writers will include Michael Beschloss, a presidential historian who is the author of nine books, including the 2011 bestseller, “Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy,”and Justin Wolfers, a frequent op-ed author and professor economics and public policy at the University of Michigan.
This new endeavor is being launched following the July departure of popular blogger Nate Silver to join ESPN. His blog at the Times, “FiveThirtyEight,” attracted considerable attention during the 2012 presidential election, when he correctly predicted the outcome for all 50 states.
Vavreck’s research focuses on the effects of political campaigns, particularly the role that stable structural conditions, such as the nation's economy and partisanship, play in light of campaign activities.
She has attracted attention over the years for her involvement in a series of revolutionary Internet election polls, which have allowed her and frequent collaborator John Sides, a George Washington University associate professor of political science, to track the attitudes of voters on a weekly basis.
With Sides, Vavreck broke fresh ground in September with the publication of "The Gamble: Choice and Chance in the 2012 Presidential Election" (Princeton University Press), a scholarly analysis of the race. The book rolled off the presses within weeks of the publication of election books by journalists. Typically, scholarly accounts of presidential elections lag journalistic ones by at least a year, reducing their relevancy.
The pair intentionally set out to reveal their findings as the election progressed, releasing online the book’s first three chapters in the midst of the election.
“The Gamble” has been described as “mandatory reading” by Ryan Lizza, CNN contributor and the Washington correspondent for The New Yorker magazine. Washington Post Wonkblog founder Ezra Klein said the book "should change how we cover campaigns." Silver called it “the definitive account of what really happened and what really mattered in the campaign.”
Ironically, today’s announcement will pit Vavreck as a competitor of sorts against Sides, who is the founder of and a contributor to “The Monkey Cage,” a prominent political science blog that was bought in September by the Washington Post. But Vavreck said she’s not troubled by the situation.
“We like to think of it as doing public-facing political science, but from different places,” she said.
In her work with mainstream media, Vavreck said she is motivated by public frustration with partisan politics.
“People are increasingly skeptical of political pundits because they believe them to be partisan,” she said. “This mistrust has driven a growing appetite for evidence and data, and I just happen to be sitting in the right place. I have a lot of data, and it doesn’t come with a partisan agenda. I’m pleased to provide that.”
Ever the translator of politics for a mainstream audience, Vavreck will lead a question-and-answer session with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton after she delivers the third Luskin Lecture for Thought Leadership at Royce Hall on March 5.