How to Run for Office: The Ultimate Guide

Whether you’ve wanted to run for office all of your life or it is a new dream, the process is extremely exciting and likely overwhelming. It can be hard to take the step from dreaming to doing when it comes to your campaign, but it may not be as difficult as you expect. To help, here’s everything you need to know about how to run for office!

With over 30 years of experience, Aristotle provides leading political campaign software, data, and services to help you manage and improve your campaigns. Learn more.

What Do You Need to Run for Office?

Here are a few essentials for anyone running for any kind of office, as well as some misconceptions about what you need to run for office that may be holding you back:

Eligibility

It doesn’t matter how well-qualified you may be for a position and how passionate you are about running if you aren’t eligible to run. Different public offices have different basic requirements to run for office, often written in a code that you can reference.

Typically, any position you run for will require that you are an elector in the district that you want to represent. An elector is considered a resident who has lived in the district for a particular amount of time and is eligible to vote. Sometimes, you must also be at least a minimum age to run for a particular office.

Some positions require that you have particular experience as well. For instance, to be a district attorney, you should be a lawyer who is licensed to practice law in a given jurisdiction. If you want to be elected a coroner, you may need to have a medical degree, but not always.

You should confirm with your local election authorities to determine whether you are able to run before you make commitments.

Time

Running for office is extremely time-consuming. Often, the more time you put in, the better your chances are of winning. The more electors you can put your face and voice in front of, the more events you hold, and the more energy you put into your campaign, the better you are likely to do.

If you are trying to hold down a full-time job, raise children, or care for a disabled relative or elderly parent, you may struggle to devote as much time as you need to run for office.

That’s not to say that you can’t run for office if you are working, parenting, or caregiving. But it does mean that you need to put special consideration into how you’ll find the time to succeed in your political campaign.

Passion

Why do you want to run for office? This may be the single most important question to answer, both for yourself and for your potential constituents. Successful candidates care about the district they want to represent and understand its issues. You don’t have to have a strong opinion about every issue that may come into play or even be educated about everything that may be of concern to voters, but you do need to care about at least a few key issues and have ideas about how you could do better than whoever is in office when you run.

Misconceptions About Running for Office

Running for office may be more achievable than you might think. Let’s clear up some common misconceptions:

Misconception: You Have to be Rich

Unfortunately, far too many capable candidates decide not to run for office even though they would have been superb leaders, just because they don’t have a large bankroll on which to run. You do need to have enough time to run, which often requires significant savings to live off of while you aren’t working as much, but you don’t need to fund an entire campaign yourself.

Political campaigns are funded by people who want you to be in office. If you are passionate about issues that matter to voters, you can find the money that you need to run through fundraising.

Aristotle Campaign Manager™ offers a number of features to help you improve your fundraising efforts and get the most from your donors. Learn More

Misconception: You Need an Encyclopedic Knowledge of the Issues

It’s important that you understand what matters to voters and are passionate about at least a few key issues in your area, but you don’t need to know everything that may come up in your campaign to run. You’ll have the opportunity to learn a lot as you’re running.

Talking to your constituents, people who are currently in office, and important members of the community can inform you of the issues that matter most to the voters. You can learn about these issues as you go, based on the priorities that matter to the voters.

Trying to learn everything before you run is likely to only hinder you. After all, issues are always changing and coming in and out of priority, so you want to remain flexible in learning about the issues that matter at the time that you’re running.

Aristotle offers industry-leading political data to help you better understand your voter base and improve your message targeting. Learn more.

Misconception: You Need a Lot of Support from the Beginning

You will absolutely need a lot of help if you expect to win any office, but that support can be gained throughout your campaign. Don’t expect to start running with a well-stocked staff of campaign volunteers and a knowledgeable team of advisors.

You can attract volunteers and advisors as you build your campaign and put your priorities out there. It is important to start with a small core group of interested parties and helpers, but don’t think that you need all of your support when you begin to run!

How to Get Started Running for Office

Once you determine that you are ready to start your campaign, the next question is how exactly to get started. Every campaign is different, but here are few key tips to help as you get started running for office:

Ask Questions

No matter how well you think you understand an issue, be humble and constantly ready to learn. You want to know everything that you can about the office you’re running for, as well as the issues you’ll be running on.

Here are a few people worth questioning:

  • Anyone who has run for the office in the past (winners and losers)
  • The supervisor of elections
  • People who have held the office in the past
  • The person who currently holds the office

Not everyone will be willing to answer your questions or help you. Of course, if the person who currently holds the office is running for another term, they may not be open to helping you at all. However, it’s worth asking all of these people.

Here are a few of the key questions that you should ask about the position and campaign:

  • What is the job like on a daily basis?
  • How many people assisted in the campaign and what were their roles?
  • How much money did they spend campaigning?
  • What techniques did they use during their campaign?
  • What do they think worked well during their campaign and what would they change?
  • How important are political parties in this race, in their opinion?

Determine What You’ll Need to Win

It’s important to know what your goals are so that you can keep track of benchmarks along the way and know whether you should keep running or whether it may be time to drop out. After all, you don’t need to win every vote to win the election, and the majority that you will need will be determined by a variety of factors.

A good way to define your goals is to look at the turnout numbers from the last several elections and get their average. Multiply that number by the registered voters in your jurisdiction to help you determine how many people are actually likely to come out to vote. Once you have a sense of how many people are likely to vote, you can determine what percentage of them you need to win.

Get on the Ballot

Once you have a sense of the office you’ll be running for and what you’ll need to win, it’s time to get on the ballot. Every jurisdiction has different requirements for getting your name on the ballot, but typically your county’s elections website or state’s Secretary of State is a good place to start.

You’ll need to fill out forms and meet particular deadlines. If you’re busy, it’s not a bad idea to assign somebody in your campaign to help you ensure that you don’t miss any important deadlines.

Build a Campaign Staff

You’ll need a lot of help to win an election. Your staff should be made up of people you know well and trust as well as people who are experts in campaigning.

It’s okay if your staff starts out small. As you continue to campaign, more and more people will support you and join the campaign. Be sure that when you are campaigning, you are actively looking for help as well as trying to stick in the minds of voters.

Never turn down any help. Even if you don’t think somebody is particularly qualified to help you with the important aspects of your campaign, they can always hand out flyers or be a public face at events. Or they might connect you with someone who can help more. You need all of the help you can get to run a winning campaign, so be grateful and gracious and give everybody who offers to help a role.

Get Out There

No matter how well-qualified you may be or how knowledgeable you are about the issues, no campaign is won from behind a closed door. You need to get out there in person, meeting voters, if you expect a shot at winning.

In today’s digital world, online opportunities can’t be overlooked, but they shouldn’t replace in-person campaigning. Since you probably aren’t going to be able to shake hands with everybody who may vote in the election in which you’re running, it’s best to target your campaigning to the people who are most likely to vote for you.

Aristotle’s VoterListsOnline.com (VLO) can help you identify your target audience. VLO is available 24/7, giving you around the clock, instant access to search and download data pulled from:

  • National Voter File containing 213+ million registered voters
  • National Consumer File of 245+ million consumer lists
  • National Donor File with 137+ million donations
  • New Mover File refreshed with over 17+ million new movers each month.

Set up your free account.

Engaging Your Base

Once you determine the best target audience for your campaign, here are a few ways to engage with them:

  • Get on social media. You want a social media campaign that is very active and engaged. Devote resources in your campaign staff to building your social media campaign.
  • Knock on doors. This may seem like an old-fashioned tactic, but it still works. There’s nothing like an in-person conversation with a candidate to make your name stick in the mind of voters and make it more likely that they’ll come out to vote for you.
  • Go to events. If your district is having any kind of community gathering, you should be there. Set up a booth with information if you can or just have campaigners there to hand out flyers and speak to voters about your issues.
  • Make phone calls. While a face-to-face meeting may be best, a phone call is almost as good. You can also likely reach more people with calls than you could face-to-face.

Aristotle Campaign Solutions Can Improve Your Success

To make the most of your campaigns, fundraising and outreach efforts, turn to Aristotle, a leader in political data, consulting and software solutions for political campaigns and groups:

  • Aristotle Campaign Manager™ is leading cloud-based political campaign management software with solutions for compliance, fundraising and accounting reporting. Learn More
  • Political Data. Considered the industry’s most-trusted source of voter and consumer data, we have serviced many of the largest political campaigns, PACs, corporations and grassroots organizations nationally and abroad. Learn More

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