If an American citizen was looking to run for office (from local, state, all the way to federal), what would be the recommended steps to take?

Specific questions that come to mind:
* How would a Millennial or Gen Z'er deal with existing social media accounts?
* How would a Gen X'er or Boomer create and navigate social media accounts and advertising?
* Where and how would the first $10,000 do the greatest good? First $100,000? Etc.
* Are there political grants/party grants/etc. available in the United States for less-funded campaigns?
* When should a citizen start campaigning for an election?
* Where and how would the first 100 hours do the greatest good? First 1,000? Etc.

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Jan 14, 2022


I strongly recommend people who are thinking about this reach out to me for a 1-on-1 conversation. 

I was the first member of this community to reach elected office (albeit small time and comparatively low barrier to entry). I've since talked to many, many people who have thought through the question of running for something. I have more value to offer for US residents, but most people in other countries have found their conversations with me worthwhile.

Be forewarned, I might advise you not to do it and pursue something else instead. :)


Jan 13, 2022


I can't speak specifically about American politics, but I work for the equivalent of the democrats in the European Parliament and participate actively in municipal politics, which probably carries some resemblance.

The biggest barrier you have to overcome is getting your political party to agree you would be the best person to represent them in office. Join the political party you feel most closely aligned with and start showing up for its local events. You'll be surprised at the influence you can have on local politics just by showing up.

Your most difficult task is to convince your fellow party members to put their trust and weight behind you. Why should I support you? I need to instinctively feel that you'll represent my interests and keep me safe, before I'm spending a minute volunteering for your campaign.

If you can do this, you'll be able to figure out the rest as you go along.

I personally do understand how political careers work in Berlin where I'm living, but I don't think you can easily transfer that to the US.

In a political system where the local political party controls the list of candidates, it's indeed central to interact with the local party.

In the US you frequently have situations where there are primaries that determine the candidates of a given party which produces different incentives. That dramatically reduces the political power of the actual political parties. 

One example is that it was advantageous for Obam... (read more)

Hey, thanks for the insight.

The running in-line with a political party is a great point for anyone in America. The successes of third-party candidates are rare enough, that the rational first step to take is probably always joining one of the two parties.

Most Americans who would consider running for office are already a member of a political party.  Unlike in many (most? all?) other countries, where joining a political party is a separate act of engagement and commitment to the party, in the US it is a standard part of voter registration. Depending on the state, it may or may not determine which primary elections one is eligible to vote in, but I believe it always at least determines which primaries one is eligible to run in (i.e., a candidate in the Republican primary must be a registered Republican). However, registering, or indeed winning, as a primary candidate does not require the support or even permission of the party apparatus at large, and after the primary, the party is likely to support the winning candidate regardless of prior engagement with the party. Donald Trump is a high-profile recent example. However, in my most recent US state of residence (Oklahoma), most local politics are technically non-partisan; the party affiliation of candidates for positions like city council and mayor are not listed on the ballot, and the party apparatus is not involved.  Most of the candidates, like other politically engaged Americans, are in fact registered as members of one party or another, and it's not hard to figure out which one since voter registrations are public information, but they may not have any deeper connection to their parties, are not funded by them, and are not in any real sense representing them. Consequently, I would say that forming deeper ties to the party is not necessarily an important step at that level of politics (source: I have two friends who are city councilors for different Oklahoma cities in the 100k-500k population range.)  I'm not sure to what extent this generalizes to other jurisdictions. I would say that the most important thing in running for office is forming connections: to potential voters, volunteers, donors, endorsements, etc.  Engagement with the party apparatus is one way


Jan 14, 2022


Move to New Hampshire.  Join the Free State Project.  I'm only slightly kidding.  For national politics, a huge amount of people dedicate ginormous amounts of attention too it and because of that there's not much slack for an individual person to affect much.  Local politics on the other hand, people barely care about.  Pull the rope sideways and all that. (https://www.overcomingbias.com/2019/03/tug-sideways.html)   Apparently, something like 3000 libertarians have been able to accomplish all this:  https://twitter.com/FreeStateNH/status/1476951307315556352?cxt=HHwWgMC98fDYl_8oAAAA  just this year.  The movement has elected 40 of their own members to the senate.  (Out of 300ish)  So a sizable minority that is vocal can have a huge impact on local politics. And furthermore, another 1000 have moved to NH year due to Covid.  So if you have libertarian leanings (and/or think those policies are good at helping people) and want to run for office , I'm sure they would get you elected pretty quickly.  Apparently some seats run completely unopposed, just because how few people care.  So yeah, if you want to have a meaningful effect, on a small(ish) amount of people, then move to NH.  

Jeff Rose

Jan 14, 2022

  1. Determine why you want to run.
  2. Figure out what people in the jurisdiction you are seeking to represent care about. 
  3. Meld those two things together: that is the basic pitch for your candidacy. 
  4. Crudely there are five things you will need to deal with: process. money, message, organization, voters.
  5.  First, process: what do you have to legally do to get elected?  For most offices it is (i) get on a primary ballot by collecting signatures or paying a fee; (ii) win a primary;  (iii) win a general election.  
  6. Second, how many people and how large an area does the office you are running for represent?  This will determine how you get your message out, how much money you need and how large and professional and organization you need to create.   If you are running for Governor of California you will need to advertise widely, spend $10s of millions and have a team of dozens on staff. If you are running for village trustee in a 500 person village you may spend a couple hundred dollars and talk to each voter multiple times.
  7. The answer to most of your questions is contingent on the answer to the question above. 
  8. There are (in general) no political party grants for less funded campaigns in primaries; in general elections you may get some party support depending on how competitive the election is, where it is and how good a chance you have of winning.  Certain jurisdictions have campaign finance programs which match small donations on a more than one to one basis, which makes fundraising easier.
  9. The earlier you start campaigning the better, so you should start as soon as you know you want to run; but keep in mind that campaigning for an election two years in the future and campaigning for an election tomorrow are very different activities.
3 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 1:14 AM

 I'd expect the most common failure mode for rationalists here is not understanding how patronage networks work. 

Even if you do everything else right, it is very hard to get elected to a position of power if the other guy is distributing the office's resources for votes.

You should be able to map out the voting blocs and what their criteria are, i.e. "Union X and its 500 members will mostly vote for Incumbent Y because they get $X in contracts per year etc"

The mapping of voting blocs seems like a really good idea, very actionable, and a great way to visualize who could be electing you. Putting their requirements, or encouragements out in a visual way, to weigh where the least action can cause the greatest gain.

I think that the situation I'm considering has an intensely powerful patronage network that it can relatively easily attach itself to. Other patronage networks will also be necessary.

Seeing that this question is quite popular, but there's a lack of responses, I'll try to do some research myself and post answers in their own posts.