Political campaign workers specialize in the art of winning elections. The profession includes many subspecialties: Press and public relations, polling, opposition research, fundraising, logistical organizing, and a wide range of other skills to deal with the crises of a campaign. In large campaigns, specialists representing all of these skills work together to develop integrated campaign strategies; in smaller, local elections, one or two professionals will serve as jacks of all trades, putting to use this entire range of skills and developing their expertise. Technical and tactical skills are extremely important in campaign management, but the ultimate emphasis in the profession is on winning. Campaign professionals with a reputation for victory can have lucrative, prominent careers; those who participate in too many losing campaigns will have trouble finding work.
This is a career for people who love the thrill of the chase. Many get into the profession by volunteering for a particular candidate they support and falling in love with the excitement of campaigns. In the weeks preceding elections, campaign professionals work full time, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, as they plan and coordinate down-to-the-wire campaign strategies. Deadline pressure is intense, as election day provides a final test of the staff’s campaign work. Many in the profession thrive on the pressure; others burn out and find other work.
Campaign management is also highly public work. Pollsters and researchers may work behind the scenes, but the press and public relations specialists, and those who wish to rise to the top of the profession and become campaign managers, must feel comfortable working with the media. At the highest level of political campaigns, statements and actions of senior campaign aides are as those of the candidate. Some relish this visibility; others find it one of the profession’s major drawbacks.
The career campaign professional’s first exposure to politics is usually as a volunteer for a campaign, perhaps over summer vacation while still a student. Volunteers perform the bulk of the low-level jobs in every campaign, but they are often found in positions of substantial responsibility in smaller, local campaigns. A bright, hard working volunteer can rise rapidly in a re-election staff, and this is often the best way to acquire the credentials that can lead to a career working on major political campaigns.
In some of the profession’s disciplines, educational or career background is also extremely important. Training in statistics is a prerequisite to polling and voter analysis; many influential pollsters have doctorates in statistics. Many political workers begin as journalists and then put their knowledge of the media to use as press aides and campaign spokespeople. A degree in political science can also be useful. Some universities offer masters degrees in political management, itself a testament to the wide range of skills required to manage a campaign. This can also be an effective route into the profession.
Campaign workers often depart to fields where the skills they have developed will be valuable, such as advertising, public relations, and journalism. Some go to law school, often with an eye towards developing their own political careers. The more senior victorious campaign workers often take jobs as press secretaries, political and policy consultants, or general staff workers in the administrations of their successful candidates.