Ten Bad Political Campaign Habits You Need To Break

by Joe Fuld (He/Him)

Kick bad campaign habits with these strategies and tools

Over the years, we have seen folks develop some bad political campaign habits.  But the good news is that many of these bad campaign habits can be prevented by good organization and a focus on fundamentals. Read the list below so you can spot the warning signs and keep your political campaign on track.

Spending political campaign money too early:

Many folks get a false sense of security by talking about the total money raised instead of focusing on cash on hand. This is a bad campaign habit. At some point, how much you have spent does not really matter compared to how much you have left. This is especially true if you have spent money early on things that don't communicate with voters (i.e. yard signs). Many folks make emotional spending decisions early in the campaign.  Spending money based on emotion is the definition of a bad campaign habit. Having a good budget and a written plan from day one can really make a big difference. Another important piece of advice: don't make spending decisions on the fly. Make sure the spending fits with your plan and that you get buy-in from your team. Planning and executing your spending can often be harder than writing the campaign budget itself.

Burning out your team:

Campaigns staffers work hard, and so do the candidate and campaign manager. Treating your staff badly and unprofessionally will only kill morale and negatively impact your team’s culture. Be cognizant of the culture of your campaign, make sure you thank folks and fix things quickly if you see your team breaking down. Here, it is important to make sure you establish what is acceptable behavior and work ethic from day one.

Focusing on the candidate, not the voter:

Have you ever talked with a candidate and the entire time he or she was looking over their shoulder for the next person to talk to? This is a bad personal trait, not just a bad campaign habit. If you are a candidate, lock in on the voter and focus on them. If you are staff, make sure you are giving your candidate the space he or she needs to connect with voters.

Paying staff late:

As a candidate, you are dedicated to the campaign and so is your staff, but they need to eat. Make sure you pay your political campaign staff before you purchase direct mail or place TV buys.  If you are concerned you won’t have enough money to pay for staff, you either need to raise more money, or minimize your staff size. It is a bad political campaign habit to forget to run the numbers early on in the campaign, so you don’t have to face this unfortunate reality during GOTV.

Going into debt:

If you properly manage a budget and fundraise accordingly, both you and your staff should be able to avoid going into debt. It’s important that you plan your budget in advance and that you stick to the plan throughout in order to avoid having a campaign that goes into the red as closing out old campaign debt can be very tough to do after the campaign.  

Not doing your job:

Everyone on a political campaign should have clearly defined roles. The campaign manager will manage staff, while the candidate should be focused on meeting with voters and raising money. When campaign staffers stop doing what is necessary for success, like knocking on doors and fundraising, it can be detrimental to your political campaign. Make sure everyone knows their roles and that they stay on task throughout the campaign.

Enabling the candidate:

It’s important not to encourage bad habits within the campaign. It is the staff’s job to make sure the campaign is achieving the campaign’s goals. And on a competitive political campaign, there is simply no time to neglect fundraising or field work. If the candidate is not hitting their goals or putting in the work, make sure you are holding the candidate accountable. This can be hard if you are a staffer, as the candidate is actually your boss, but if you want to be successful you cannot enable bad candidate behavior.  

Avoiding numbers:

Some folks who work on campaigns don't want to know the numbers, as they believe it will all be okay when left up to chance. Unfortunately, that’s not a good way to run a campaign. The strongest campaigns are very metric based and hold themselves to goals and standards. Make sure you are going over a set of achievable metrics every week and comparing goals versus actual numbers.


Waiting until the last minute is a bad idea in politics. Campaign have much tighter deadlines than nonprofits or corporate work. Putting off a decision a few days or even a few hours can have serious consequences for a campaign. In the chaotic world of campaigns, you can also tend to forget things as well. If you have the ability to make a decision, do it as soon as possible rather than putting it off. Of course, you shouldn’t rush judgment, but don’t put something off if you can avoid it.

Dwelling on things you cannot control:

Campaigns can easily become fixated on things they cannot control and cannot fix. For example, many campaigns will worry about what the opponent is or is not doing, or whether or not there will be an independent expenditure in the race. These are all things that campaigns cannot control. Remember your campaign plan, and focus on all of the things you can control. This is a much better use of your time.

Bonus Bad campaign habits: 

Not Standing for something:  It is easy to be against something but hard to have real stances that you stick with and can truly explain. Work with folks to create real solutions to problems you can actually solve. 

Alienating potential long-term supporters: Primaries are tough and you need to be focused on the long term win. Fighting with your opponents supporters and limiting your post-primary growth makes little sense. Focus on the short term and the long term. Build an inclusive movement. 

Have other bad campaign habits that you’ve run across? Share them below.