10 Political Campaign Mistakes First-Time Candidates Should Avoid

10 Political Campaign Mistakes First-Time Candidates Should Avoid

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All modern political campaigns have a lot of moving parts, making it more important than ever to structure your campaign wisely. Part of learning how to structure and manage a campaign comes from getting your hands dirty, but many problems could be avoided. The best way to for first-time candidates to avoid common political campaign mistakes? Hire a campaign manager who can ensure those moving parts are working together smoothly.

Here’s a list of 10 common mistakes you can avoid by having a qualified manager supporting your political campaign.

Not Having a Fundraising Plan

Fundraising is the most important part of your political campaign. Without fundraising, you don’t have a budget. A campaign manager (often with the help of a finance director) will oversee creating a fundraising plan that includes the following:

  1. Donor prospects.
  2. A plan to actively fundraise for at least several months (up to a couple of years) before election day.
  3. A detailed schedule for all the call time you’ll need to reach potential donors.
  4. An organized list of all the little things you’ll need—personalized scripts tailored to texts, voicemails, prospecting calls, and follow-up calls.

For smaller campaigns (or in the early days of a larger campaign) you can likely manage a lot of these aspects on your own. You can also use consultants or find a campaign manager who specializes in budgets and/or fundraising. Find out more on how to be smart about your fundraising by visiting our comprehensive guide to political campaign fundraising.

Not Having a Healthy Budget

A major imperative of your political campaign strategy should be to develop a healthy budget. Two things will ultimately determine what kind and size of budget you will have: your fundraising potential and the type of race you’re running. You’ll also need to manage your expenses wisely.

While having a campaign manager early on is very beneficial, not all campaign staff positions need to be filled immediately. A bloated staff early on is one way that a budget could go awry. Political campaign manager salaries vary from $3,000 to $10,000 per month, depending on the race, but having a well-managed budget is worth the cost.

Find someone who will not only help you fundraise diligently but also help keep costs down, especially earlier in the campaign cycle.

Not Doing Research (on your opposition, donors, district, or office you’re running for)

The first items on your political campaign checklist should be doing due diligence on gathering information relevant to your campaign.

Properly managing your campaign means knowing who your potential donors are, knowing the responsibilities of the office you’re running for, knowing who your opposition is and how you can better serve in that office, and knowing what the voters want from you.

Properly managing your campaign means being able to answer the following questions:

  1. Who are your potential donors?
  2. What are the responsibilities of the office you’re running for?
  3. Who is your opposition, and how you can better serve in that office?
  4. What do the voters want from you?

Having Unfocused Messaging

Doing proper, ongoing research can help you avoid other common political campaign mistakes, such as sending out muddled messaging to your supporters.  Refining your message will be an ongoing part of managing your campaign. In other words, you must ensure your message is effectively reaching the voters. A campaign manager would help organize and manage your message and ensure it resonates with supporters.

Part of a campaign manager’s job description is to craft a persuasive and effective message while coordinating with press, social media managers, political advertising consultants, and so on to put together a tight presentation of your campaign’s key messages. A jargon-filled speech that isn’t landing well or inconsistent communication of your policies can be caught by campaign management in the hands of a manager who’s on top of things.

Poor Information Exchange Within the Campaign

The first responsibility listed in the political campaign manager job description should always be facilitating communication between the varied departments within the campaign.

For example, volunteers who are canvassing will have feedback that comes directly from the voters, and the campaign manager’s job is to coordinate collecting and passing along that information.

Properly managing your campaign means structuring your staff so that information is effectively exchanged between the different departments or staff. Goals, polling results, shifts in messaging, and more all need to be communicated quickly and effectively, ensuring that every part of your campaign is working together.

Not Having Clear Goals

The success of your political campaign will be built on reaching daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly goals—all of which serve the ultimate goal of winning on election day. Goals are therefore the best place to start when thinking about how to manage your campaign.

You need to have well-defined, specific goals for the following areas (among others):

  1. Fundraising
  2. Budgeting
  3. Phonebanking
  4. Door knocking
  5. GOTV efforts
  6. Branding
  7. Messaging

Not Reviewing Your Goals

Part of having clearly defined goals is remembering to regularly revisit them to ensure they still make sense with the information you have on hand. Information you glean from polling and canvassing, or a sudden influx of funds, can change your campaign strategy. Your goals need to reflect that change.

For that reason, a working exchange of information is incredibly vital. It can have ripple effects on even your daily targets and the strategies you use to achieve them.

Having Unpolished Branding

Branding requires cohesion, and political campaign branding is no different. Your campaign’s branding must not only be recognizable but also should remain consistent across multiple social media platforms, in all mailers, and within campaign advertisements.

Does your branding look consistent across both digital and printed ads? Are all ads and campaign material recognizably yours? If the answer is no, you need to polish your branding.

Managing your campaign’s branding will mean coordinating with political campaign consultants who specialize in political advertising, graphic design, and social media to achieve a unified presentation of your campaign’s brand.

Not Leveraging Social Media or Other Technologies

Social media platforms have become a useful tool for raising public awareness about your campaign. Social media, and campaign websites, ultimately allows you to combine efforts to achieve multiple goals within your campaign: fundraising, messaging, and GOTV.

In fact, using social media offers a way to familiarize yourself and build trust with voters by giving them easy access to you and your persuasive messaging. Using well-coordinated content calendars of live streams, playlists, virtual events, and other creative ways to engage voters provides voters with snippets of insight into who you are as a candidate. All of these approaches and engagements also build excitement, helping you establish why you’re the best fit for the office.

Social media managers specialize in creating content that can be used across multiple platforms. A general political campaign manager could handle this for smaller campaigns, but it’s beneficial for larger campaigns to use a specialized consultant. Social media efforts can, after all, be a full-time job on their own.

Another tool to utilize is the ability to quickly customize and distribute merchandise. This capability has become an important source of grassroots funding for political campaigns. For example, Bernie Sanders was able to raise $1.8 million for food banks in just a couple of weeks after he (and his iconic mittens) became a meme at President Biden’s inauguration.

Not Canvassing Properly

Political canvassing not only persuades voters on why you are the best choice but also gives your campaign useful information directly from the voters.

Meeting with voters face to face helps you better understand the demands of the office you’re running for and how you can shape your policies to better meet the voters’ needs. Those face-to-face meetings also help you understand how the voters view your message, which allows you to refine and recalibrate your message and how it’s delivered.

Not to mention, canvassing properly allows you to find pockets of new support and learn what strategies might persuade undecided voters.

Avoiding These Political Campaign Mistakes

Collectively, this list should give you a pretty good idea of the most common mistakes to watch out for as you learn how to manage your first political campaign. Having a qualified campaign manager early on, especially one to help coordinate fundraising, is key to successfully running for office—and to avoiding the 10 most common political campaign mistakes made by first-time candidates.

Originally Published Feb 28, 2021.  Updated Sep 23, 2022

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