Political Campaign Questions to Answer Before You Run

by Ben Holse (He/Him)

Political campaign questions Little girl in stripes raising her hand in a classroom

What Should You Know Before Jumpstarting a Political Campaign

At The Campaign Workshop, we will often get calls from folks who are thinking about starting up a political campaign for the first time but don’t know where to begin. To get a sense of where they’re at in the process and learn more about their race, I usually ask the same four questions and then try to give them some suggestions and tips. But too often, candidates won’t have the answers because, in many cases, they just didn’t know the questions. Below are four key questions you need to be prepared to answer before you decide to start your political campaign.

How much can you raise? 

We’ve written in the past about how it’s important for candidates to do a personal assessment and get a sense of how their network can pitch in to help. This is the process of taking everyone from all your lists (the contacts in your phone, your Facebook friends, people from LinkedIn, etc.) and putting them in one spreadsheet. You go through each contact and categorize how you think they can help your campaign (give money, knock doors, introduce you to new donors, endorse your campaign publicly, etc.). If a contact can give money, you assign a dollar figure with an estimate of how much you think they can contribute. At the end of this, you add up all these contribution estimates to get a real sense of how much your campaign can raise. Our general guidance is that this amount should be one-third of the total you need to raise. Before you talk to a consultant about your political campaign, it’s helpful to have completed this exercise and be able to say that you think you can raise X for your political campaign. 

How much do you need to raise?

Before your run for office, you also need to have a sense of how much you need to raise in order to win. Calculating this number isn’t an exact science. To start, you should dig into the campaign finance reports and figure out how much past candidates have raised for their races. If you dig deeper into the reports, you should even be able to figure out how much these candidates have spent on direct voter contact (direct mail, digital, TV, etc.). This will help you get a baseline of how much you need to raise. From there, you also need to make an assessment of how competitive your race will be and how many viable candidates you expect to have. If a previous candidate raised $100K for a one-on-one primary, but you find yourself running in a primary with four viable challengers, you’re likely going to need to raise more than $100K to win. 

What’s your vote goal? 

Before you run for office, you need to know how many votes you need to get to win, aka your campaign vote goal. Your vote goal will dictate everything you do, including how much you need to raise and how many voters you need to communicate with. It’s important that you’re thinking about your vote goal in a way that accounts for any outside factors. Let’s say you’re running in a 2020 primary. To calculate your vote goal, you need to know the percent of people who voted in the most recent analogous election, which may be the 2018 primary. But if you’re running in a 2020 primary, you also need to account for a higher turnout due to presidential primary voters. If you’re running in an early primary or a Super Tuesday state, accounting for these outside factors will be critical to making sure you’re communicating with enough voters to win.  

What’s your competitive advantage?

This takes the “why are you running?” question a step farther. Just like in business, when you’re running a political campaign you should know your competitive advantage. While the three previous questions require some time digging into the Board of Elections website, this one requires some time and thought. Your competitive advantage is what sets you apart from other candidates and is the benefit a voter gets with you in office instead of someone else. This may be your record of results, reputation, career experience, life experiences, or your unique take on the issues. The bottom line here is that you can’t just say that people should vote for you because the incumbent is horrible. You need to have a compelling reason why people should want to vote FOR you as well. 

Have you sat down and answered these four questions? Are you ready to take the next step and talk to a consultant about a political campaign? Reach out to The Campaign Workshop!