If you’ve spent any time around political campaigns this year, you’ll have heard the stories. One candidate began field operations — knocking on doors, organizing volunteers, speaking directly with voters — months later than usual because the campaign couldn’t find anyone to take charge. Another didn’t have a press team before Labor Day, although it was locked in a toss-up. Quite a few, in fact, have gone through the entire campaign cycle without a single press staffer.
The Big Quit — that much-publicized post-COVID shutdown trend rocking all kinds of industries — hit politics just in time for the midterm elections. I’m on daily conference calls with Democratic Congressional campaigns across the country, and the complaint is always the same: Our campaigns are understaffed and can’t recruit essential people.
There are good reasons for that. After all, why would a talented young graduate, already burdened with student debt, agree to work 24 hours a day at a job that would require him to travel across the country and might not pay enough to cover the basics? basic ?
Today’s generation of smart, energetic, idealistic young people — the kind of people drawn to political work — understandably want decent wages, health care and some semblance of work-life balance.
Modern countryside could afford to provide all of this. There has never been more money in politics. It’s just a matter of priorities.
Spending on U.S. House and Senate races alone is expected to reach $9.3 billion this year, Open Secrets reported last month. The previous midterm record was set in 2018, when spending hit $7.1 billion, adjusting for inflation. Democrats and Republicans each paid more than $300 million just to buy cable airtime and run TV ads for the home races from mid-August through Election Day. And campaigns for all levels of office across the country have already invested more than $6.4 billion in ads this election cycle — more than in 2018 or 2020, a presidential election year.
Astronomical sums from the war chest go to highly paid consultants and analysts who crunch numbers, run polls, create advertisements, buy airtime and earn hefty commissions – up to 15% – every time they work. a political advertisement is born. But money for operations on the ground just hasn’t kept up with that money flow — especially since 2020, when the party imposed a COVID-19 social distancing ban on in-person campaigning for Congress. , with the almost disastrous results that we know all too well .
There is no way to reach voters on a large scale without using mass media. But as New Republic’s Walter Shapiro noted in a recent thoughtful roundup, TV ads have limited impact. Their effects do not last long. And while they may change voters’ perception of a candidate, they don’t get people to vote.
Winning elections is about participation. This means that in every election cycle, parties and candidates need activists to deepen their relationships with the communities they organize, to knock on doors and to make sure voters know where and how to vote. We need to pay employees to train and lead volunteers who can motivate voters and prepare them to go to the polls.
We know that showing up to voters, in person, works. In 2021, the historic victories of Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, who overthrew long-held Republican seats in Georgia and secured their party’s narrow majority in the US Senate, have been widely attributed to more than a decade. of grassroots organizing led by Stacey Abrams and a huge increase in new voter registrations in communities of color in particular.
Many campaigns have made efforts in recent years to address the problem of long working hours and low wages. But in general, pay remains low for entry-level employees — 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 help. And most of those lucky few have tended to be white. It’s not a good look for a party ostensibly dedicated to fighting inequality and promoting diversity as a strength.
Simply raising salaries would help, as well as devoting serious resources to recruiting, training and retaining junior organizers, field managers and other essential campaign staff. Political campaigns desperately need diversity. They cannot rely solely on young people who can afford these jobs.
Ronnie Cho is a former associate director of public engagement at the Obama White House and a senior policy adviser for Square One, a nonprofit PAC that recruits and endorses various progressive congressional candidates.