So, you want to work on a campaign? Working on a campaign is one of the most enjoyable things that you can do. Everyone on a campaign is united in the goal of electing a candidate of their choice, but most people are not aware of what working on a campaign is like. I wrote this article to tell you about some of my experiences working for various campaigns.
If you want to work on a campaign, that’s great to hear! We need more people that want to enact change in politics. Now you might be wondering where to start? You can get involved in various different ways. The easiest way is to volunteer and bust your ass. If you bust your ass the campaign staff will notice and may give you extra responsibilities – that’s how I got my start. I busted my ass during college working for a local city council candidate and it led to multiple jobs with campaigns afterward.
There are other ways to get a job with a campaign. You can apply on a campaign-specific job board. You can also get a job with a campaign through someone you know running for public office. The “bust your ass” volunteering method is the most prominent way and it is the method I will assume you are using.
If you volunteer the campaign will give you one of three tasks: phone banking, canvassing, or donor research. The tasks that a campaign will have volunteers do are extroverted. This does not mean introverts cannot do it, but you have to know what you are getting yourself into.
Phonebanking is calling people in the district. The campaign will give you a script that will help you through the call if you cannot freestyle. This is not that bad of a task. Most people will not pick up and those that do tend to be nice. Bad calls will happen, but they are rare. You will get hung up on, and you will have people yell at you. You will also have people claiming that you are a secret communist or fascist if you phonebank long enough. It is your job to take it and represent the campaign. Don’t antagonize the person you are on the phone with. Some people want someone to be angry at and they are taking it out on you – cases like that are rare and you should not take it personally.
Canvassing is knocking on doors. Campaigns usually ramp up their field programs in the spring and summer. This means that it will be hot when you are knocking on doors. You will be given a physical or virtual packet where you will mark down what people’s responses are and which way they are leaning. Without fail you will be accosted by a neighborhood watch type that will wonder if you are even allowed to be in the neighborhood. In certain neighborhoods you, like one of my friends, can have guns pulled on you for knocking on a door. Having a gun pulled on you is rare, unless you are in Texas.
The neighborhood watch types are a nuisance that makes canvassing worse than it is. In my opinion canvassing is fun. It is free cardio and you get to talk to voters and leave campaign literature for people who are not home. People tend not to be rude to people who are at their doors. Canvassing will help you come out of your shell and become more social. This will help you with all other tasks that a campaign will have you work on.
Donor research is simple. You will be using public resources to figure out who the campaign will contact for donations. For example, if someone donates to Terry Mcauliffe they are statistically likely to also donate to a generic Democrat in Fairfax County.
Life as a campaign hire
Now that you have proven yourself as a good volunteer and have been hired as an organizer now what? Well this is the point that the average person never sees. Volunteers are treated well by campaigns because they are the lifeblood of campaigns. Once you are hired as an organizer you are now an employee of the campaign. There will now be expectations that you will have to meet. You will still have to do phone banking, canvassing, and donor research. However, once you work for the campaign the nature of the task changes and that can lead to some interesting scenarios.
When you are working as a volunteer you tend to be able to set your schedule and your limits for the day. If you only want to call 30 numbers in a day that is your prerogative. If you do not want to knock doors in a specific neighborhood that is 100% ok. Even if you only want to call Scorpios today, that is weird but probably manageable (these volunteers actually exist). Once the campaign hires you, the limits that you put on yourself are thrown out the window.
An average day will begin sometime between 8 am and 10 am. You will begin with your first coffee of the day. Then shortly after that you will listen to your regional organizing director (ROD) or your field director (FD) lay out what the expectations are for the day. This will include the voter contact numbers that you will have to hit. These numbers are damn hard to hit. That is where volunteers come in.
You will spend multiple hours in the day recruiting volunteers to canvas or phone bank for you. You will get baptized by fire in the different types of volunteers. Within three days you will be able to tell the difference between a good vol and a bad one. You will have to properly manage your volunteers. This means that you will have one on ones with your vols to connect with them as people and find out ways that they can make your job better. When I was working on a campaign in Virginia during the 2019 legislative elections I often did one on ones with the Young Dems to coordinate our voter registration program and with the local chapter of Indivisible to coordinate and advertise different events that we were doing.
After hours of calls asking for vols, you now have some willing to knock doors for you. The numbers that your ROD has given you are now actually achievable. That means you’re done, right? Nope. There will inevitably be packets leftover because there is never enough volunteer capacity. It is also inevitable that there are incomplete packets. You are responsible for finishing the packets and the unclaimed turf. You will also have to deal with the fallout of your volunteers not following your instructions. When a volunteer forgets to sync their data or loses their packet, an organizer dies a little inside. If either happened the data is meaningless even if your volunteer completed it. The moral of the story is to sync your damn data, you hooligans.
Volunteer canvassing usually ends around 6 PM or 7 PM depending on the amount of daylight left. You will then spend another hour or two calling volunteers to try to get them to canvas for you the next day. At the end of the day you will have to report your numbers. This includes the number of doors knocked, phone calls made, voters contacted, etc. You will then spend however long it takes to put your data into whatever data collection program that the campaign is using. Only when you finish can you go home.
The end of the first day
It is now between 9 PM and 11 PM you have now completed your first day as a campaign organizer. Do this 7 more times and you have completed your first week. The burnout rate is real. The worst part about it is that you are entry-level. you are on relatively low pay and are sleeping on a campaign supporter’s couch if you are not local. This means that you are very replaceable if you start slipping and not hitting your marks. Campaigns know this and will try to stop burnout from happening. In my experience the campaign will usually have a day off each week during the early part of the campaign for the field team. This tends to happen on Tuesdays or Wednesdays because contact rates are very low on both days.
The best part of working on a campaign is the friendships that you make with fellow organizers and some of your volunteers. You will make a difference if you work on a campaign. Elections are decided by margins. Most organizers I know can point to specific precincts that they worked in and can say that the 2% increase in voter share was them. The job will make you develop a work ethic and a crippling caffeine addiction. It is difficult and it is not for everyone, but I would not trade my experiences for anything. I hope that this rundown of what the work is like if you join a campaign is helpful for all of you that want to work for political campaigns.