Why are politicians so terrible?

I’ve been spending some time with friends on the phone to catch up after the 2020 election cycle put most of my relationships on pause. A friend from college told me that she’s paid closer attention to politics in the last year than ever in her life. I was caught by surprise because I live by what’s trending on Twitter and my Sunday service is Meet The Press. My friend is in the company of many others that took the election season more seriously than in the past. The 2020 presidential election cycle resulted in 158.4 million ballots cast, which is about 7% higher than 2016 according to Pew Research

I’ve had a few friends from college run for office and win local races. There has been a 266% increase in people under 45 running for office according to the Millennial Action Project (MAP). 

We have a giant political problem in America. Prior to COVID-19, Americans said that government/leadership is the top problem facing the country according to Gallup polls. 

Not enough good people consider running for office, leaving little competition for the power hungry to make it on the ballot. Being an elected official shouldn’t be a career but a form of public service. It’s important for all political activists to think of themselves as a potential future candidate and/or a person that can inspire others to run. Imagine if your options on the ballot were so exceptional that you had a difficult time deciding who will receive your vote. Voters deserve better and we as Americans need to rise up and encourage our peers (and ourselves) to run.

Now that I have asked you to think about running and also recruit some people along the way, I do want to give you some advice from my experience from two dozen campaigns. Here are the 16 things you should consider now so that you can be ready to run when the time is right.

  1. Conduct a thorough review of your history and contemplate your future.  Are there any things in your past that have the slightest potential of being unfavorable if made public? Disclose these things to your campaign manager and do not lie. Do you have any major life changes coming up that could present a difficulty in managing life balance while campaigning? A divorce? Got a long vacation planned? Financial hardship? Getting married?  Having a child?  Buying a house? None of these life experiences would preclude you from running for office, but any one of these could make your pathway to office much more challenging. 
  1. What kind of candidate do you want to be and what are your goals in running? You’ll need to determine how much time and resources you can commit to your own campaign and disclose this to your core campaign team.  If you plan to be an all-out candidate, are you prepared to commit a significant amount of time to your campaign until Election Day?  How bad do you want to win?
  1. Is your family, especially your spouse, supportive of your decision to run? You will need their support and encouragement.  They will need to be prepared for you to spend a significant amount of time campaigning and you will need them to campaign with you.
  1. Do you know what it takes to win?  Have you researched prior election data?  You will need to determine the win number and create a campaign plan to accomplish your goals. Taking future candidate classes from organizations like The Leadership Institute will help you prepare.
  1. Are you comfortable asking for donations? If not, why?  Are you willing to get comfortable asking for donations? You can try this very moment to raise some money for a cause. Raising money is uncomfortable but you can get over it with practice.
  1. Are you currently well-networked within the community?  If not, are you prepared to spend significant amounts of time networking at neighborhood association meetings, business chambers, civic engagement groups, social clubs? You will need a robust network to support your campaign.
  1. What’s the right office for you? From local boards to POTUS, there is an office out there that you are qualified for and matches your skill sets.  
  1. Have you sat through the meetings of the office in which you seek to be elected? If not, when is the next meeting and are you planning on attending? During COVID times, you can watch and participate from your home.
  1. Why are you running for this office?  You will be asked this question many times while campaigning. Learn what is your story, and practice giving it until you feel ready to give a Ted Talk on your personal story.
  1. Do you have a campaign team?  Your success depends on the efforts of your team.  Does your network contain individuals with certain areas of expertise (communications, media, marketing, leadership) that are willing to volunteer their time to help you get elected?
  1. Have you volunteered for a campaign before? Do you have first hand experience of the behind the scenes work of a political campaign? When it’s time for you to run for office, your past experiences volunteering on a campaign will give you so much appreciation for your volunteers and staff.
  1. Do you know what concerns the people in your community?  Have you talked to friends, family and constituents about their perceived issues in the community? Have you gone into neighborhoods that are not part of your usual route? You can take time now to learn more about what your community needs.
  1. Are you comfortable in front of media cameras and participating in live interviews? If not, how will you prepare for the media? Are you willing to be evaluated on your public speaking skills/media performances by professionals and receive constructive criticism for improvement?
  1. Are you willing to do things you do not want to do? While you may be a candidate in the future, you will need to rely on your team to make decisions for you. Campaigning can pull a candidate in many different directions and there may be times you do not agree with your campaign team.  Are you willing to let your team manage you and your schedule, even in times you do not want to be managed? As a candidate, you should still retain agency over your life, but some of the control of your campaign will not be in your hands.
  1. Are you physically able to canvass? Knocking on doors and meeting your constituents is time consuming and physically demanding. You can win races without ever knocking on a door, so keep this in mind when selecting the right office for you.
  1. Will you leverage your network? Your friends, coworkers and acquaintances are the first votes you will ask for.  You will need to leverage their networks for votes. 

Now that you’ve gone through each of these items, are you thinking differently about running yourself? Do you have someone in mind that would make their community better? Ask them to run and tell them you would be happy to support them with either your time or your money.

Thank you to Tom Mahon for compiling this list with me.

The people who have the biggest passion for restricting other people’s behavior are the very people we should worry about most. Unfortunately, they keep running for office.

John Stossel

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