Research: Why people run for office, what helps them succeed, and what gets in their way

Run for Something
Mar 1 · 4 min read

After the 2018 elections, Run for Something Action Fund partnered up with the Pipeline Initiative to learn more about first- and second-time candidates: How did they decide to run? What was helpful for them, and just as important, what wasn’t?

This research is both super interesting and directly informs the Run for Something programming for 2019–2020. It’s too good to keep to ourselves — so we wanted to share it with the world.

You can read the survey summary at runforsomethingaction.net/survey-summary and the full survey findings at runforsomethingaction.net/survey-findings.

You also must must must watch this segment from MSNBC, which digs in with two of our amazing Indiana candidates, Ali Brown and Tai Adkins.

The entire study is worth reading — we learned something new with every slide. We’re calling out just a few of the many things that stood out to us and are particularly informative as we move forward…

Approximately 30% of the folks surveyed had absolutely no staff, and another 40% had anywhere from 1–3 staffers. Nearly 50% of the sampled campaigns had 10 or fewer volunteers. That’s pretty typical of the kinds of races we work with…

When it comes to making the decision to run: Training is cited ten times more often by women, and positive role models are cited almost twice as often. This directly affects our work: The more we can do to tell the stories of amazing women running (and the more we tie it back to training), the more folks we can recruit!

While not statistically significant given the sample size, people of color specifically cite that knowing organizations will endorse them and having support in the very first steps is especially valuable as part of the decision-making process.

Women are significantly more likely to cite home-life tension, gender and racial discrimination, and to express that feeling lonely was a challenge.

We LOVE this one: The most useful resource in a challenging movement — far and away — is a friendship with another candidate.

Candidates of color were twice as likely to cite fundraising support as a critical missing resource.

Overall…

41% of respondents reference a moment of validation as a turning point. Overcoming fear and experiencing early success helps first-time candidates step into their new identity and enables further success. Accelerating the timeline on which this takes place, could accelerate the campaign trajectory. We took that to mean: The earlier we can endorse and engage with a candidate, the better.

67% of respondents reference the importance of local support. From local fundraising networks and local party infrastructure to local political, community dynamics, and candidates value. They want more support from people who have shared experience, regional expertise, and tailored insight. We need to be even more localized, while still maintaining our scale nationally.

One of the most valuable things we can do whether it’s recruiting folks to run or helping them through the process: Build community between candidates and alumni.

So that’s what we’re going to do! As we continue to grow, we’ll invest in building and maintaining relationships. No candidate is an island — this a national movement of folks ready to make change.


This survey was only possible thanks to our partnership with the Pipeline Initiative and the incredible team at Avalanche Strategy, who were a dream to work with.

If you have questions about the findings, don’t hesitate to send us an email at hello@runforsomething.net

Run for Something

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Recruiting & supporting young people running for office. Building a Democratic bench. Want to help? hello@runforsomething.net