If you’ve spent any time campaigning politically this year, you’ll have heard the stories. One candidate began field operations months later than usual — knocking on doors, organizing volunteers, speaking directly to voters because the campaign couldn’t find anyone to lead. Another did not have a press team until after Labor Day, despite being involved in a toss-up race. In fact, quite a few have survived the entire campaign cycle without a single member of the press.
The big resignation — that much-reported post-COVID shutdown trend that’s rocking all kinds of industries — hit politics just in time for the midterm elections. I’m on conference calls with Democratic congressional campaigns across the country daily, and the complaint is always the same: Our campaigns are understaffed and unable to make significant hires.
There are good reasons for it. Why would a gifted recent college graduate already saddled with college debt take a 24/7 job that would require moving across the country and might not have enough to cover basic needs?
The current generation of bright, energetic, and idealistic young people — the kind of people drawn to working in politics — understandably want livable salaries, health care, and some semblance of work-life balance.
Modern campaigns could afford to provide all of that. There has never been more money in politics. It’s just a matter of priorities.
Spending on races in the US House and Senate alone is expected to reach $9.3 billion this year, Open Secrets reported last month. The previous midterm record was set in 2018, when expenditure adjusted for inflation reached $7.1 billion. Democrats and Republicans each spent more than $300 million buying airtime for cable and television commercials for home races from mid-August through Election Day. And campaigns for all levels of government across the country have already committed more than $6.4 billion to ads this election cycle — more than in 2018 or 2020, a year of presidential elections.
Astronomical amounts of the war chest go to highly paid consultants and analysts who calculate the numbers, conduct polls, create ads, buy airtime and earn hefty commissions – up to 15% – every time a political ad sees the light of day. But money for field operations just hasn’t kept pace with that flood of cash — particularly since 2020, when the party imposed a COVID-19 ban on social distancing for in-person congressional campaigns, with the near-catastrophic consequences we know all too well .
There is no way to reach voters on a large scale without using mass media. But as the New Republic’s Walter Shapiro noted in a thoughtful recent research summary, TV ads have a limited impact. Their effects don’t last long. And while they can change voters’ perception of a candidate, they don’t get people to vote.
Winning elections depends on voter turnout. This means that in every election cycle, parties and candidates need activists to deepen their ties with the communities they organize, ring the doorbell and ensure voters know where and how to cast their vote. We have to pay staff to train and deploy volunteers who can get voters excited and ready to go to the polls.
We know that appearing in person before voters works. The historic 2021 victories of Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, who overturned the longstanding Republican seats in Georgia and secured their party’s slim majority in the US Senate, have been widely attributed to more than a decade of grassroots organizing by Stacey Abrams and a huge increase in new voter registrations, particularly in communities of color.
Efforts have been made in many campaigns in recent years to address the problem of long working hours and low pay. But in general, entry-level pay remains low — around $3,500 a month — and that pretty much guarantees that the only people who can work on campaigns are those whose parents are willing and able to support them . And most of those lucky few were rather white. That doesn’t bode well for a party rumored to be committed to fighting inequality and promoting diversity as a strength.
A simple pay raise would help, as would dedicating serious resources to recruiting, training and retaining organizers, field managers and other key campaign staff. Political campaigns urgently need diversity. You can’t just rely on young people who can afford these jobs.
Ronnie Cho is a former deputy director for public engagement at the Obama White House and a senior policy adviser for Square One, a nonprofit PAC that recruits and supports diverse, progressive congressional candidates.
https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2022-11-03/political-campaigns-midterm-elections-field-operations-hiring-staff Op-Ed: Politics is flooded with cash. Divert more of it to young campaign workers