Reading Room: Lou Jacobson ’92

No less an authority than columnist George F. Will *68 has proclaimed The Almanac of American Politics to be the bible of American politics. Indeed, it has the same comprehensive coverage of its subject matter and an almost religious level of devotion among its fans. 

Unlike its biblical prototype, however, the Almanac needs to be rewritten every two years, with each new Congress, which takes a massive amount of work. Political writer Lou Jacobson ’92 recently completed his contributions to the Almanac’s 24th edition. 

First published in 1972, the Almanac offers detailed descriptions of all 50 states and every governor, senator, and member of Congress, along with essays about each congressional district. There are also statistics on demographics, voter turnout, recent election results, and key congressional votes. Weighing in at about 2,000 pages, the book can fairly be called a “tome,” though it is as entertaining as it is informative.

Lou Jacobson ’92 is a staff writer for PolitiFact and the Tampa Bay Times and an online columnist at Governing magazine.
Courtesy Louis Jacobson ’92

For the latest edition, Jacobson — a senior correspondent for PolitiFact, online columnist for Governing magazine, a staff writer for the Tampa Bay Times and a PAW contributor — wrote all 50 state overviews and profiles of almost all of the governors, as well as several other essays. In addition to checking the numbers and updating all the essays, he added analyses of population trends and county-by-county results from the presidential election. He confirms, for example, that Donald Trump made huge gains among blue-collar voters even in states that he lost badly, such as Connecticut, while Hillary Clinton improved the Democratic performance in suburban parts of red and blue states alike.

Jacobson began early last December, just weeks after the election, and wrote for six months. Complicating matters, the governors of South Carolina, Alabama, and Iowa left office early, which necessitated new profiles of their successors. “This is the kind of thing where the book comes out and it’s immediately out of date,” he says with a sigh.

Such work requires an encyclopedic knowledge of the United States, which Jacobson possesses. While covering state politics for the National Journal in 2004, he set a goal of filing a story from every state and got to 48 of them. He has not matched Michael Barone, the founder and longtime author of the Almanac, who famously reported that he had personally visited all 435 congressional districts, but he eyes that accomplishment with awe and envy. 

Still, if political junkies cannot imagine getting along without a fresh copy of the Almanac of American Politics every two years, it is not clear whether the younger generation feels the same. The Almanac may be essential and entertaining, but it is also huge and lacks online updates, though it is available as an e-book. Just two years ago, there were rumors that the Almanac would cease publication, before lead authors Richard Cohen and James Barnes secured a new publisher.

Jacobson, though, is optimistic.

“The fact that it still exists today despite the bias against paper books is pretty impressive,” he says. “I’ll do it as long as they ask me to.”