How to Get Into Politics

How to Launch Your Political Career

Campaigning for Office
Every campaign - whether it be for your local school board on up to legislature or Congress - needs hard workers. Getty Creative

There are lots of good ways to get into politics, but most are not easy and take time and plenty of effort. Often, it's also about who you know and not necessarily what you know. Even after you figure out how to get into politics, you will likely find that it won't immediately pay enough money to be career but instead a labor of love or civic duty, especially at the local level. It's different story if you're running for Congress, where the salary is in the six figures.

 

Few people start their political careers at the federal level though — President Donald Trump is the rare exception — so let's begin with the assumption that you're considering a run for the town council, perhaps weighing whether to launch a campaign for elected office in your community. What do you need to know first?

Here are some helpful tips for how to get into politics.

1. Volunteer for a Political Campaign

Every political campaign — whether it be for your local school board on up to legislature or Congress — needs hard workers, the people who serve as the boots on the ground. If you want to get an idea of how politics really work, walk into any campaign headquarters and offer to help out. You'll likely be asked to do what appears to be menial work at first, things like helping to register new voters or making phone calls on behalf of a candidate. You might be handed a clipboard and a list of registered voters and told to go canvass the neighborhood.

But if you do the job well, you'll be given more responsibilities a a more visible role in the campaign.

2. Join the Party

Getting into politics, in a lot of ways, really is about who you know, not what you know. And an easy way to get to know important people is to join or run for a seat on your local party committee, whether it's the Republicans or Democrats or some third party.

In many states these are elected positions, so you'll need to get your name on the local ballot, which is a good learning process in and of itself. Precinct and ward leaders are the rank-and-file of any political party and are among the most important players in the political process. Their responsibilities include turning out the vote for the party's preferred candidates in primaries and general elections, and screening potential candidates for local offices.

3. Contribute Money to Political Candidates

It's no secret in politics that money buys access. In an ideal world that wouldn't be the case. But donors often have the ear of their favorite candidate. The more money they give the more access they get. And the more access they get the more influence they might have over policy. So what can you do? Contribute to a political candidate of your choice in the community. Even if you contribute just $20, the candidate will notice and make it a point to acknowledge your help in the campaign. That's a good start. You can also start your own political-action committee or super PAC to support candidates of your choice.

4. Pay Attention to Political News

Before you get into politics, you ought to know what you're talking about and be able to hold an intelligent and thoughtful conversation about the issues.

Read your local newspaper. Then read your statewide newspapers. Then read the national newspapers: The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street JournalThe Los Angeles Times. Find good local bloggers. Stay current on the issues. If there's a particular problem in your town, think about solutions.

5. Start Local and Work Your Way Up

Get involved in your community. Go to municipal meetings. Find out what the job is about. Network with activists. Find out what the issues are. Build coalitions dedicate to changing and improving your town. A good place to start is attending your weekly or monthly school board meetings. Public education and school funding are important issues in every community in the United States. Join the conversation.

6. Run For An Elected Office

Start small. Run for a seat on your local school board or town council.

As onetime U.S. House Speaker Tip O'Neill famously said, "All politics is local." Most politicians who go on to serve as governors, congressmen or president started their political careers at the local level. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, for example, started out as a freeholder, an county-level elected office. The same goes for Cory Booker, a rising star in the Democratic Party. You'll want to pick a team of advisers who will offer advice and stick by you through the process. And you'll want to prepare yourself and your family for the intense new scrutiny you'll be getting from the media, other candidates and campaign workers who perform "opposition research" on you.