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Getting Ready to Run Your Political Campaign: Research, Research, Research.
Thinking about your first campaign for public office? The smartest move starts with doing the fundamental research you will need to run an effective political campaign. Here are just a few ways basic research helps drive winning campaigns:
Research the district where you want to run for office. Most of this can be found online. A little might be in the library. Are there public polls available on what people think? Do local think tanks do research on the district? Local universities? You can always look at past voting history. If your community voted overwhelmingly against gun control in the last election and your platform is gun safety regulation, that’s always helpful to know before you decide to run.
Identify the top 25 issues you will need to understand and develop your positions. We are sticklers on this. Are you pro-choice? Pro-gun control? Against the proposed wall on the border? What is your position on a certain bill or recently passed law? Make a list of the 25 toughest questions you can imagine someone asking you, and write down your answers. Make sure to do the research it takes to figure out what the tough questions are going to be.
Now do some fundraising research. How much has the average candidate spent to win this race? Almost every city, county, and town requires candidates to publicly file their donors and spending. This information is probably linked from the website of your local elections department and can help you determine your budget.
Do the electoral research. In the past four cycles, how many votes did the average winner get? This is very important—a winning campaign is always focused on that magic number: the votes needed to win. Try to find elections that were similar to yours. For example, if only one person ran unopposed last time, the win number likely won’t be similar to a race where five people are on the ballot for the primary. Find an election that serves as a good example for what you’re expecting, and use those numbers.
Use your research to make the tough decisions. This is where the rubber meets the road for most political campaigns. Be very honest with yourself. If you don’t think you can raise close to the average in campaign donations and also find the time to personally reach out to voters, it’s not time to run yet. It’s important to be realistic. If you decide that you can’t make it work this cycle, don’t worry. Run next cycle and start working up to success right now. And if you decide you can—that’s great!
Do some self-research. This can be a tough one, but doing it now will make things easier down the road. Are you on probation? Did you forget to pay your taxes? Are you running for school board but you “forgot” to vote in the last three elections where there was a school bond on the ballot? Seriously—think it through. (And spend a few bucks on an online background check site, except this time—check yourself). If you have something in your background that is going to be a non-starter, don’t run. Pay those taxes. Vote in the next three elections. Wait until you have completed your probation. You are better off waiting until these issues are cleared up.
Local election departments and your Secretary of State’s office are great places to start. From there, branch out to your local think tanks, do online research, and chat with folks who have run in your district before.
Went more information as a first-time candidate for elected office? Download our e-book designed to walk candidates through the process of running – and winning – their first political campaigns here.
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