Saturday, May 15, 2010

Why don’t more people run for public office?

I think that most people are too busy trying to make a living to consider running for public office. If they live in a town that seems to be well managed they don’t notice anything wrong that makes them question how well their local government is doing its job.

If the water comes on when they turn the nozzle, the lights come on when they flip a switch, the snow is plowed before it’s too difficult to drive through and the roads are not filled with pot holes then life seems to be just rosy in the town where they live.

Occasionally someone will attend a city council meeting because they hear about a local issue affecting a friend, co-worker or family member. They attend the meeting and get their first taste of local politics. After assessing the meeting they think to themselves that they would have done a much better job if they were a member of the city council or even the mayor. But for the average person these feelings don’t last long and then they return back to their busy life and daily routine.

But every now and then something happens to jolt a citizen into action. They want to fight for a cause or against an injustice and they take on City Hall. The experience gets them a small measure of local fame and then they think that perhaps they could do a better job than the elected official. Then realty sets in and they soon discover that there is no way they could fit one more thing into their busy life so they pull out from the controversy and try to quietly slip back into their anonymous life.

There are others who would make excellent legislators or local city officials but they are not in a position financially to take on the cost of a political campaign. Often, if the candidate is popular enough people will contribute to a campaign helping to offset the costs, but most local campaigns still end up costing the candidate.

So who wins most campaigns? Typically those who win campaigns are those who have the time to devote to public office and enough money to spend and run an expensive campaign. Seldom does the best candidate win an election; instead it is the candidate who can spend the most money. There is a simple reason for this; it’s called “name impressions” through marketing. The more often a candidate gets their name in front of the voter the greater the subconscious impression they make with the voter which results in a greater likelihood of obtaining the vote.

Surely you have known someone who said they voted for the name they knew, or perhaps you have even done the same thing. The average voter does not take the time to learn the issues or discover how the candidates believe or would vote on the issues. Instead, they tend to vote for the name they recognize on the ballot. So, if you are running a campaign the more you can get your name in front of a voter the greater the chances that they will recognize your name on Election Day and vote for you.

This is why you are constantly asked to donate to a campaign either directly through the political party you are associated with or from a candidate who believes you would support them. Money is essential in winning a campaign; qualification or ability unfortunately often comes in a distant second. In the end he or she who has the most money wins!


  1. I think it is interesting that you find flaw in the system when people you support lose elections but when someone questions the flaws of the delegate system you say the will of the people has been enacted. I don’t disagree incumbents enjoy an advantage in local elections but I believe it is because people are happy with their representation they have the inclination to vote for their re-election. In your campaign I thought you did an excellent job getting your name out there and proposing your ideas. Is it possible the majority of voters just had an honest disagreement with you on issues? I think this was the case. I do not mean to denigrate your positions as they are obviously principled and well thought out but you short change voters when you say the that “seldom does the best candidate win.” The best candidate is in the eye of the beholder and people vote for who they think the best person is. You sound as if anyone who does not vote for the same people you would support does so because they are under-informed, I would argue that in many cases they just have an honest disagreement. This is what elections are all about. While I would have supported Bob Bennett at convention I respect that elected delegates did not. Were they wrong, in my opinion yes, however as you noted they were elected to represent the people and they did what they thought was right, therefore we should all accept the results of the election. You can’t on one hand criticize those that take issue with the delegate system as being out of touch and then on the other say that other elections are not reflecting the will of the people.

  2. Marc,

    Thanks for your comments. Let me clear up a couple of things you said. First of all, I never mentioned anything about my campaign in the blog post I wrote and I never mentioned anyone I voted for who lost an election. If you are talking about the elections at the Republican Convention I am very happy with the results because the people I voted for have advanced to the primary. You have insinuated something that I never wrote in this particular blog post. This was not about me it is my perception of the average voter. Surely you know that voter turnout is extremely low and even lower in primaries. I have a marketing background and I do know something about advertising and making impressions on the buyer (voter) to buy a product. There is a very strong subconscious trigger for people with visual and audio messages and that is why advertisers continue to reply and reprint the ads over and over again. It is the same reason why successful brands seldom change their logo or jingle. The bottom line in elections is that some of the most qualified people never throw their hat into the ring and others simply can't spend enough money to get their name and message out there. And those who get elected are not always the most qualified. They simply spend more money and get their name in front of the voter more often than the others. I am sure by now there are a lot of Obama supporters who realize that they were duped by the catchy slogans and the campaign hype. They voted for the most popular candidate the one who also happened to spend the most money. As far as my campaign, I was running against two incumbents who were also long time residents of Bountiful. Yes, they already had name recognition. I received nearly 3,000 votes of 6,200 split between two of us. More time and more money spent on getting my name in front of more voters would have made the difference. And lastly you know as well as I that many people vote without knowing anything about the candidate. How many times do we vote for judges or county or state positions like auditor or treasure and don't really know anything about the person? People get to the voting booth, look at the ballot and simply vote for the name that either they recognize or if all is well in their mind they vote for the incumbent. This happens in almost every general election. Thanks again for your comments to my recent blog post but you have not said anything to sway my thinking on this issue.

  3. Phil,

    Thanks for the reply. You make a good point when it comes to judges and county clerks. I am always disappointed by how low voter turnout is in local elections. I certainly did not think I would sway your thinking on the issue. My main point was that when you combine your last two posts you go out of your way to say State Delegates and their positions are representative of the people because they were elected by the people in their Caucasus but people who are elected to local office are done so because of money, not the true will of the people??? I think the main message that we both agree on is that if we want representation we need to be involved in the process. I have no sympathy for supporters of Bob Bennett who are complaining who did not attend their neighborhood caucus. In your opinion what is the solution to the problem in local elections? I personally don’t believe it is constitutional to limit the amount of money people can spend on a campaign. There are several local forums that candidates attend to explain their positions that get decent media coverage at least from the Clipper. I agree it is a problem but a very difficult one to solve. I think in the case of Bountiful City most people are very pleased with their City Government and therefore are not inclined to vote for change. This does give incumbents an advantage but I don’t know what the answer is to the problem.

  4. A lot of people don't want their name dragged through the mud. I would never want to run against DJ Schanz because of his proclivity for misrepresenting his opponent.

    Politics would be a lot more palatable if candidates talked about what they believe instead of what their opponent "really" believes.


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