There is not a day that goes by that you don’t see some politician in the news.  Maybe they are doing good, perhaps they are bad, and sometimes they are just trying to get attention.  It doesn’t matter because politicians are a part of our daily lives as Americans.  

But what do you really know about politicians?  What do they do all day?  How much do they get paid and how much did it cost to get them into office?  Well, this guide will answer some of the most frequent questions about politicians and hopefully give you a better understanding of how these civil servants work, or sometimes don’t.

What Is a Politician?

Let’s start with the basics.  What are politicians?  Very simply politicians are people that are involved in party politics, seek or hold a political office, an expert in government, or a person skilled in political government proceedings and administrations.

Now, that definition covers a lot of ground and includes a lot of people.  Pretty much anyone can be a politician, and they don’t necessarily need to be a professional politician to be involved in politics.  Most often the people involved in political parties, such as Democrats or Republicans, are considered to be politicians.  

How Do You Become a Politician?

Ok, so politicians are people well-versed in government and use their office to advance the policies their party supports, but how do you become a politician?  There is no one set way that you become a politician but rather a few avenues.  Let’s start with the traditional route.

Many professional politicians started by going to college.  It isn’t a must, but it certainly helps.  You can major in things like political science, history, or even law.  Many politicians also went to postgraduate school to get further education on political matters.  You also should align yourself with a political party.  It could be Democrat or Republican or even the Green Party, but having an affiliation gives you more power.

Many current politicians got experience and their start by working on other campaigns.  Working on a campaign can give you a better idea of how these things run and allows you to see the process it takes to be a politician.  Politicians also spend a majority of their time working out in public alongside their constituents.  This helps people to recognize them and makes them more likely to vote for them when they decide to run for office.  

While this route is most traditional, it isn’t the only way you can become a politician.  Technically, anyone can run for a government office, and if they have the means and ability to get voted in, then they are a politician.  It takes a lot more work going this route, but it isn’t entirely impossible.  

Why Do We Need Politicians?

This is a tough question because there is often a lot of emotion and opinions about politicians.  Most people believe that politicians are liars and even the great Mark Twain stated, “Politicians and diapers must be changed often, and for the same reason.”  But that doesn’t mean they are entirely unnecessary.  

The idea behind politicians started as a way to give a more powerful voice to the people. Rather than everyone just shouting their opinions on how things should be done and the way to run a government, we elect one person to give voice to our beliefs.  The government can be much more efficient with a smaller group of people representing the majority.  While politicians help government and in turn society to run smoothly, then the rest of us are free to live our lives, progress society, create innovations, and overall advance.

Again, this is if we lived in a perfect world.  Unfortunately, some politicians are liars and would rather use the power that the people give them to advance their own pursuits.  Ideally our system of checks and balances would keep them in line, but again that sometimes fail.  No matter how you feel about politicians, they do serve a purpose, and when they are working for the common good rather than their own, they are necessary.

How Much Do Politicians Make?

Politicians do earn salaries, but they are varied depending on their office.  Politicians that work for the federal government will make more than the politician working in a small local government office.  So, what is the range of salaries for politicians?

The President of the United States is paid $400,000 per year to run the country.  The Vice President makes about $231,900 per year.  Members of Congress earn a base salary of $174,000 per year, and they can earn more based on their time in Congress and other pursuits.  

Governors earn between $70,000 and $190,000 per year, but their salaries will depend on their state and location.  The governor of New York will make much more than the governor of Hawaii.  A state legislature will receive a different salary depending on if they are full or part-time.  Full-time legislatures earn an average of $81,079 per year, and part-time legislatures earn an average of $19,197.

County-level politicians such as county commissioners can average a salary of $200,000 per year, but again, this depends on their locations.  Many small-town county politicians earn less than $100,000 per year.  Locally elected officials will earn a salary based on the size and scope of their job.  Mayors in large cities like Los Angeles or New York can earn over $200,00 per year while smaller city mayors can earn less than $100,000 per year.  

Keep in mind; many politicians don’t just earn their living with their government salary.  Many are business owners, lawyers, and even health care providers that have other jobs.  There are some rules to what jobs a politician can do while they are in office and how much money they can accept.

What Does It Cost to Run a Campaign?

Ok, so we know a little more about what a politician has the potential to earn.  For the most part, it seems like they do reasonably well.  But you need to consider how much it takes to get and stay in office.  Campaigns are costly endeavors and the higher the political office, the more expensive the campaign gets.

  • The 2016 Presidential election cost $2.4 billion.  While that is a little less than the 2012 campaign, it is still exponentially larger than almost every other campaign before it.  
  • A seat in Congress is a bit less expensive than a Presidential campaign, but it still costs a decent amount of money.  House candidates average about $1.68 million while Senate candidates average approximately $10.47 million.  
  • Local elections can be more or less than Presidential or Congress campaigns.  Someone running for the office of governor in a large city could spend in the millions while someone running for mayor in a small town could only spend a few thousand.  

There is no way to tell exactly how much it will cost to run a campaign.  The bigger you go, the more money it will cost.  Most politicians don’t raise all their campaign money themselves, though.  Many have dedicated donors that will help fund their run for office.  In the case of the Presidential election, both the Democratic and Republican parties will contribute substantial funds to the two top runners in the race.  

No matter what though, there is no denying that it can be very costly to run a political campaign.  

How Do I Find Out Who Is My Politician?

The sad but true fact is that most people don’t know their elected officials.  Other than those in the top office like the President or the Vice President, many people would be hard-pressed to name their Senator or legislature.  Even fewer people know their locally elected officials.  

The good news is you can easily find out who are the politicians that serve your area.  The simplest way to find your elected officials is to search on the internet.  You can use websites like Common Cause or Elected Officials to find representatives in your area.  If you want to more know about your local officials, you can head to your town hall to get more information.  

Why Should I Know More About Politicians?

Remember how we mentioned that in a perfect world, politicians would use their voice to help pursue the common goals of their party?  You are the majority in this scenario, and your voice holds a lot of power.  If you know your politicians, you can help make your voice heard and affect the change you want to see in your area.  

By getting more involved with politics and politicians, you can start to see real growth in your area.  How do you become more involved?

  • Attend local town hall meetings
  • Meet with elected officials if you get the chance
  • Right your state representative or call their office to voice your opinion
  • Work with local organizations that work on causes you support
  • Stay up to date on the political happenings in your area

Politicians might seem like they are an entirely different race.  Sometimes they don’t do a lot of good, but the more you know about them, and the power you have, the better politicians become.  

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