The Yale Politics Initiative aims to bring students together with political leaders, operatives, and activists to inspire more careers in politics and public service.


Inaugural Guests

These political practitioners are varied in their expertise and ideologies, but they're the best at what they do.



Joel Benenson

February 7, 2018

Joel Benenson, founder and CEO of Benenson Strategy Group, is the only Democratic pollster in history to have played a leading role in three winning presidential campaigns — making him the "go-to guy for any politico wanting to take the public's temperature," according to GQ.

Joel has been named "Pollster of the Year" by the American Association of Political Consultants, among the "most powerful" people in D.C. by GQ magazine, and a part of "the new lineup in Washington" by Newsweek magazine. He was also included on The New Republic's "The O-List," which identified the 30 most influential players in Obama's 2008 run for office.


Patti Solis Doyle

March 1, 2018

Patti Solis Doyle is a nationally recognized political organizer and campaign strategist. She speaks regularly on the rise of women and minorities in politics, presidential campaigns, and issues affecting Hispanic Americans. Solis Doyle is also a CNN political contributor.

She is President of Solis Strategies, a communications firm serving non-profits, NGOs, and corporations. Solis Doyle has more than 20 years of experience in politics, presidential campaigns and public service. She began her career working on Richard Daley’s campaign for Mayor of Chicago and later worked at Chicago City Hall. In 1991, she was among the first to join then Governor Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign. She served as a senior advisor to Hillary Clinton throughout that campaign and two terms in the White House. In 2000, Solis Doyle served as chief of staff to the First Lady’s first Senate campaign. She later managed Senator Clinton’s political operations, PAC and 2006 re-election campaign. As campaign manager of Clinton’s presidential bid (from January 2007 through February 2008), Solis Doyle was the first Hispanic woman to lead a presidential campaign.


Frank Luntz

April 3, 2018

Frank Luntz is one of the most honored communication professionals in America today.  “The Nostradamus of pollsters,” said Sir David Frost, while Time magazine named him one of “50 of America’s most promising leaders aged 40 and under,” and Newsweek magazine identified him as No. 24 on their Power Elite survey. In 2012, he finished 87th in a Time magazine global poll of the “most influential people in the world.” Frank was named one of the four “Top Research Minds” by Business Week, “the hottest pollster” by The Boston Globe, and was a winner of The Washington Post’s coveted “Crystal Ball” award for being the most accurate pundit.  His focus groups have become so influential that presidential candidate Barack Obama had this to say following the PBS presidential debate: “When Frank Luntz invites you to talk to his focus group, you talk to his focus group.”

The “Instant Response” focus group technique pioneered by Frank has been profiled on 60 Minutes, Good Morning America (on Election Day), and on PBS’s award-winning Frontline.  He has been a guest on virtually every talk show in America, including multiple appearances on The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and Real Time with Bill Maher, as well as Meet the Press, Nightline, The Today Show, Charlie Rose, The PBS NewsHour, Face the Nation, and Tavis Smiley. His reoccurring segments on MSNBC/CNBC, “100 Days, 1000 Voices” won the coveted Emmy Award in 2001. 


Jeff Roe

Jeff Roe is the founder of Axiom Strategies, the fastest-growing and largest General Consulting political firm in the nation. Roe is best known for his data-driven and bare-knuckled approach to politics as well as his role as campaign manager for Ted Cruz’s 2016 run for president.

Axiom has helped elect 52 congressmen, 8 senators and 6 governors nationwide. In addition to political and ballot initiative campaigns, Jeff’s team regularly consults and provides crisis management to 8 Fortune 500 companies and over 20 public corporations on federal, state and local issues.

In 2016, Fox News Sunday’s Chris Wallace proclaimed Jeff was the “man behind the secret to Ted Cruz’s ground game.” Jeff is famous for his attention to detail and his strategic focus on the science of messaging, such as the Houston Chronicle explains, his desire to “keep a piece of campaign literature in a targeted voter’s hands for 48 seconds or more – instead of the industry average of 24 seconds – before it goes in the trash.” Others have noted that Ted Cruz’s campaign was perhaps “the most sophisticated” the first in the nation caucus state had ever witnessed. On MSNBC, pundits covering the 2016 primary said that Jeff Roe has become the ‘rock star’ in politics created each cycle to the likes of Lee Atwater, James Carville and David Plouffe. According to the Washington Post, “Ted Cruz ran the best campaign of any Republican politician in the 2016 primary.”


Tony Podesta

April 16, 2018

From the halls of the Capitol to the agencies that operate the country, Tony draws on his unique mastery of how the nation’s capital works to navigate the policy landscape. Dubbed one of DC’s “50 heavy lifters” by the Financial Times and “one of Washington’s biggest players” by The New York Times, Tony is leverages what POLITICO calls an “in-the-trenches sensibility” to offer expert tactical guidance informed by decades of legislative, political and public relations experience.

Tony has been distinguished by The Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, The New York Times, GQ, Newsweek and Bloomberg Businessweek, among other publications both inside and outside the Beltway, as a leading lobbyist in Washington today. In addition to being named one of the top 11 lawyer-lobbyists of the last decade by Legal Times, Tony was named “The Lobbyist” by Newsweek, and he has consistently been named a top lobbyist by Roll Call and The Hill newspapers. According to The New York Times, “His clients are going to get a blueprint for how to succeed in official Washington.” Named a “Washington super lobbyist” by Bloomberg Businessweek an dubbed by POLITICO as “a king of K Street,” Tony has led the way on some of the most significant policy debates in recent history, honing expertise that ranges from health care to financial services to technology. 


“Off the Record” is a new master class series on political practice. Five political operatives — Joel Benenson, Frank Luntz, Patti Solis Doyle, Jeff Roe, and Tony Podesta — will each come to campus to teach an application-only, non-credit master class capped at a small number of students. Classes will be designed to give students the opportunity to learn real-world skills and knowledge from experienced political practitioners.

Guests will work through a specific case study in their area of expertise and students will have the opportunity to present work that the speakers will critique.

The Master Class

While each class varies based on audience, content, and speaker, each is an engaging, focused lesson in the practice of politics. Below is a sample of what one master class with a political ad-maker might look like:

4:00 – 4:15: Introductions

4:15 – 4:45: First Case Study - the guest dissects a few ads she made for a particular campaign and discusses the messaging strategy that informed them, how they played into the campaign's larger strategy, and their target media markets.

4:45 – 5:05: Critique - the guest critiques a student-made messaging strategy and resulting ad script for a hypothetical 2020 presidential contender.

5:05 – 5:35: Second Case Study - the guest walks students through the specifics of an issue-based messaging campaign that she ran to target the districts of specific members of Congress who were swing votes on an important bill.

5:35 – 5:55: Critique - the guest critiques another student-made messaging strategy, this one designed to transform the public image of an unpopular business.

5:55 – 6:30: Visions, Big Lessons, Questions, and Ideas for the Future - the guest discusses their work in the context of current politics, gives advice to students who are interested in her line of work, takes further questions, and gives final thoughts.


To make change, win elections, politico says - The Yale Daily News →

An interview with Patti Solis Doyle - The Yale Politic →

Talk to Real Voters, Pollster Says - The Yale Daily News →

An interview with Joel Benenson - The Yale Politic →

Students begin master-class series - The Yale Daily News →

Gross & Michaelson: Teach us to win - The Yale Daily News →


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