News: It’s Time to Invest in the Progressive Pipeline by Denise Feriozzi and Krithika Harish (3/14/19)
Changing the type of people who are empowered to run for office, manage campaigns, and move up in elected office does not happen automatically. Continuing our positive momentum on all levels of the ballot requires serious investment in the progressive talent pipeline and the groups and people who make it function.
2018 was a remarkable year for representation in American politics. Record numbers of women, people of color, young candidates, educators, veterans, and LGBTQ Americans ran for office; and won. Importantly, this happened not only in Congress but also in state legislatures across the country. We made huge strides toward electing leaders that look like America — but we still have a long way to go.
That’s why in the run-up to the 2018 election we launched the Pipeline Initiative — to look under the hood and research how progressive organizations could leverage their resources to ensure that the record number of candidates running for office had what they needed to win. We spoke with over 40 progressive groups who recruit, train, and support candidates, from EMILY’s List, to Collective PAC, to Run for Something. To make sure we had the full picture, we partnered with Hart Research to conduct an online survey of nearly 800 candidates who ran for seats ranging from school board to state senate, and everything in between, to understand their experience running for office. We followed up the survey with in-depth interviews with 20 candidates to dig even deeper. What our research found was both surprising and promising.
First, Donald Trump may have inspired millions of Americans to resist, but we can’t give him credit for their decision to run for office. Our research shows that the vast majority of state and local candidates ran for two primary reasons: to advocate for issues important to their communities and to make government more reflective of the people it serves. Standing up to Donald Trump was further down the list of priorities, ranking 5th place. The energy we saw in 2018 is not the exception and can be the rule moving forward, but only if progressives invest in scaling up candidate support to meet this reality.
Second, recruitment still matters. 51% of first-time candidates were recruited to run for office and out of those, 40% said they would have likely not run if they weren’t recruited — including nearly 60% of candidates who flipped a seat from red to blue in 2018. At the same time, we saw a gap in the number of progressive groups that engage in the time-intensive, on-the-ground work of candidate recruitment. Often, those responsible for recruitment aren’t connected to diverse groups of community activists and leaders, and resort to the same lists of party insiders to fill open positions. To ensure that we recruit women, and younger, more racially-diverse candidates in future cycles, recruiters need to work in partnership with community organizations, candidate training groups, and groups that are dedicated to inspiring and supporting a new generation of activists to run for office.
Third, recruiting diverse candidates also means being prepared to address their diverse needs on the campaign trail. Single parents, women, young people, and working-class candidates have fundamentally different concerns than the candidates who have traditionally been considered viable for decades: independently wealthy, older candidates with white-collar professions. Our survey shows that the biggest concerns for state and local candidates in 2018 were financial and personal, such as working full-time while campaigning and balancing family roles and responsibilities. These concerns were even more acute for candidates of color and women.
The diverse backgrounds of candidates who ran and won in 2018 proved that the old rules no longer apply. While the progressive community grapples with new definitions and guidelines for viability, the facts remain. All nine new Democratic African-American members of Congress elected in 2018 come from heavily white districts, and young, dynamic candidates competed and prevailed in primaries against well-established Democrats. A new type of candidate is running, and we need to update and scale our support to ensure that they win.
Finally, fewer than one in four 2018 candidates said they had all the support they needed during their campaign. This isn’t surprising, given what a campaign at the local level looks like. Forget about Barack Obama’s historic and sprawling operations, a typical state house race is run with (maybe) one staff person with little to no previous campaign experience. In fact, a full 50% of the candidates we surveyed had no paid campaign staff and relied exclusively on volunteers.
For smaller races, third-party groups are a critical source of training, volunteers, direct contributions, and access to new fundraising and peer networks. Running for office can be a lonely experience, especially for those running in primaries and districts where they are up against a significant conservative infrastructure. The importance of support from progressive groups who recruit, train, and support candidates cannot be overstated.
Support from groups should supplement the talented staff and volunteers who build and run campaigns. These are the people who make strategic decisions daily and help candidates navigate the challenges of balancing their lives with the demands of the campaign. Programs like Arena Academy, BLUE Institute, and Inclusv are working to recruit and train a new, more diverse generation of operatives who not only make the difference in winning campaigns, but are also the potential candidates of tomorrow.
Changing the type of people who are empowered to run for office, manage campaigns, and move up in elected office does not happen automatically. Continuing our positive momentum on all levels of the ballot requires serious investment in the progressive talent pipeline and the groups and people who make it function. The future of the progressive movement depends on it.
The Pipeline Initiative is a project of the 1630 Fund and is dedicated to building the talent pipeline of progressive staff, candidates, and elected officials. The universe for the research cited in this post was the product of lists provided by 12 organizations and included an online survey among 777 candidates, followed by a series of 20 qualitative, in-depth interviews (IDIs).
Read on Medium here.