Reflections from the Campaign Trail

Written by Akash Wasil ’19

For college students interested in politics, there are various ways to get involved: many decide to intern for congressmen, others choose think tanks, and some decide to join campaigns. With all of these options to choose from, it can be difficult for students to determine which types of opportunities to prioritize. Questions like “Will I be good at this?” or “Will I be passionate about that?” can be difficult to answer without direct experience. However, hearing about the experiences of others can still be a helpful way to gauge what a position is like. Last December, I was a fellow for Hillary Clinton’s New Hampshire field campaign, and I didn’t really know what to expect. While every campaign office operates differently, and it’s difficult to make broad generalizations, there are a few key parts of my experience that can may help you know what to expect. My biggest takeaway: campaigns are great for meeting charismatic people, but they can be dull for people who seek challenging intellectual stimulation. 

Hard Work, not Difficult Work 

Campaign work isn’t always flashy. Canvassing involves walking around for several hours hoping to have two or three real conversations. Phone banking typically gets a response rate of around ten percent. Even when you are able to talk to voters, most of them are either apathetic or already committed to a candidate. There’s some room for creative new ideas, but most of the day is spent following orders. A typical day might last until 9:00 or 10:00 PM. The work isn’t particularly difficult—but it is hard. Anyone can read from a script and dial phone numbers, but not everyone can find the motivation to do so energetically for twelve consecutive hours. If you’re looking for intellectual stimulation via nuanced policy debates or campaign strategy discussions, field work may not be the place. But campaign work is also exciting. At times, it can feel more like a sports event than a political event. Big campaign events involve a lot of cheering, chanting, and catchy rhymes. There are colorful signs, important surrogates, and plenty of #SocialMediaMoments. Most of all, the exciting atmosphere is established by the people on the campaign trail.

Come For the Candidate, Stay for the Organizers

One of the main goals of field organizing involves working to recruit local volunteers. The more manpower (and womanpower!), the more that can get done. There’s a saying about volunteers: They come into a campaign office for the first time because of the candidate, but they stay because of the office staff. Field organizing attracts people with intense levels of enthusiasm and passion—dedicated voters, volunteers, and co-workers who care deeply about a candidate, politics, and the future of America. While the logistical tasks aren’t always intrinsically rewarding, the friendships are. In between phone conversations and entering data forms, there’s time to share stories, to joke about absurd campaign experiences, to let loose and laugh. Campaign work isn’t a desk job; so much of the experience revolves around the relationships that are built with others on the trail.

Who Should Campaign?

It is important to remember that the only way to fully capture the spirit of the campaign trail is to join a campaign. However, there are a couple of factors to consider when deciding whether or not to campaign. Since much of the experience is determined by conversations with voters and co-workers, campaigns appeal to charismatic individuals who feel engaged interacting with lots of people for short periods of time. Additionally, academic-minded students who seek intellectual challenges may be disappointed by the laborious and monotonous tasks that are part of campaign life. Most of all, students who exhibit a genuine devotion towards a candidate are far more likely to enjoy the campaign. It’s easy to justify a difficult day or a boring task by remembering that your day-to-day work is contributing to a cause that actually matters. If you’re going to join a campaign, try to join one for a candidate that you genuinely care about.