How to Start a Career in Politics: A Complete Guide
In 2020, Americans elected 71 new members to Congress, marking a shift in what we want for our future. The biggest takeaway? If you want a career in politics, it isn’t out of reach.
Of course, Congress doesn’t have to be your ultimate goal. Whether you want to enter the national arena or simply make a difference in your own city, you just need to set your mind to it.
Not all paths to politics look identical, but there are certain steps you can take to make that process smoother.
Read on to learn more about the different ways that you can begin a career in politics regardless of what stage in life you’re entering.
Still in College? Choose a Compatible Major
If you’re still in college and see a career in politics in your future, choosing the right major can set you up for success. An obvious choice is political science, but that isn’t the only major that can boost your credentials. History, economics, pre-law, and even English are common choices for future politicians.
Out of College? Start Volunteering for Political Campaigns
If your college days are behind you, don’t fret. Regardless of what you majored in or what career path you’ve taken thus far, you can still change courses toward a political future.
The best place to start? Look into the political campaigns in your city and find one that speaks to you. Then, sign up to volunteer, which can look like anything from fundraising to talking to voters about your candidate’s views.
Not only does volunteering for a campaign start to build those crucial connections you’ll need to become a politician, but it will give you some insight into how the campaign process works.
Envision the Future You Want to See and Start Building a Platform
To become a politician, you need to understand the issues–and have a stance on them. If you haven’t already, start learning more about the most important problems that you believe need to be addressed. For example, you might feel strongly about raising the minimum wage or providing residents with more affordable housing.
Once you have an idea of what problems you want to tackle, it’s time to start building a platform. It’s not enough to get up on stage and say, “I want to raise the minimum wage.” You need to be able to back up how you intend to do that and what kind of methods you’ll take when fighting for the change you want to see.
(Remember, it’s also important to have a working understanding of issues that aren’t as pressing to you. Your opponents may be able to sell voters on a platform that looks extremely different from yours, and knowing how to address those differences will make you a stronger candidate.)
Go Grassroots With Your Campaign
Running a political campaign does, unfortunately, cost a lot of money. As a newbie in the political arena, it’s unlikely that you’ll attract wealthy donors or PACs. Instead of hoping for a massive donation to come out of the woodwork, find ways to take a grassroots approach with your campaign.
A grassroots approach generally entails that you’re funding your campaign with small donations from a large number of people. It requires that you appeal to a wide array of voters on a more personal level. The best way to get a grassroots campaign off the ground is to get out there and get to know your voters, get involved in community improvement efforts, and keep your online presence active and relatable.
(And don’t worry–grassroots campaigns still rely on fundraisers and merchandise sales, and a successful grassroots campaign tends to take off on a national scale.)
Establish Residency If You Haven’t Already
If you’re running for a local or state position, you need to run where you live. Some politicians don’t live full-time in the city or state where they legislate, but they do have to establish and maintain residency there.
If you have your sights set on Washington, DC, you don’t have to own property in DC, but it is helpful to live within the DC metro area. Take a look at the best first time homebuyer programs in the DC metro area.
Brush Up On Your Debate and Interview Skills to Win Over Your Constituents
So you’ve started your campaign, you’ve secured funding from donors, and you’re on the path to victory. What’s the final step?
The only thing standing between you and a career in politics at this point is your opponents. Whether they’re in the same party as you or on the opposite side, you’re going to need to be prepared to go up against them. Make sure that you’ve brushed up on your debate skills and know how to give a great sound bite to any interested reporters.
Working with an experienced campaign manager is the best way to prepare for this phase. They can help you prepare for debates, avoid PR mishaps, and ultimately win over your constituents in the final leg of the race.
A Career in Politics Isn’t Out of Reach
If we learned one thing in 2020, it’s that Americans aren’t just looking for career politicians in DC. 71 fresh faces in Congress prove that as long as you have a great platform and run a tight campaign, a career in politics isn’t out of reach even if it’s your first time running for office. Remember, there isn’t one path to politics, but our guide can get you started.
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