Political consulting

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Political consulting, beyond the self-evident definition of consulting in political matters, refers to a specific management consulting industry which has grown up around advising and assisting political campaigns. This article deals primarily with the development and nature of political consulting in the United States. Though their most important role is arguably in the development and production of mass media (largely television and direct mail), political consultants advise campaigns on virtually all of their activities, from opposition research and voter polling to field strategy and get out the vote efforts.


The practice of consulting has several early antecedents. President William McKinley's closest political advisor Mark Hanna is sometimes described as the first political consultant.

In California in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, Whitaker and Baxter established and grew the first true consulting firm, Campaigns, Inc., which focused exclusively on political campaigns.[1] However, political consulting blossomed with the increasing use of television advertising for campaign communications in the 1960s.[2] It was in that period that Joseph Napolitan claims to have become the first person to describe himself as a political consultant (Perlmutter, ed. Manship Guide to Political Communication, pg19).

In the subsequent years, political consulting has grown in importance and influence and has extended its reach to campaigns at all levels of government in the United States, and beyond. Many consultants work not only for campaigns, but also for other political organizations, including parties and political action committees, sometimes through independent expenditures; some also do public relations and research work for corporations and governments.

Nature of the Work[edit]

A political consultant, also known as a political strategist,[3] promoted the election of certain candidates or the interests of certain groups. This is achieved by planning campaign strategies, coordinating campaign staffs, and arranging meetings to publicize candidates or causes.[4]

Political consultants act as public relations specialists, salespeople and managers. By using many forms of media, including advertising, and press releases, political consultants make voters aware of their candidates' party platform.[5]


Personal benefits[edit]

As political consulting became more prevalent, political consultants increasingly were personally in the spotlight, with journalists devoting considerable attention to their activities. Many successful political consultants, such as James Carville, capitalized on their fame to become professional or semi-professional pundits. Such political consultants routinely appear on television news programs, write books and are treated as media celebrities.

Some people accuse media-centric consultants of putting their own interests and images ahead of their clients.[citation needed] Even some political consultants allege that too many consultants put their financial interests ahead of the campaigns they are hired to serve, taking on too many clients and focusing too much energy on building their reputations.[citation needed]

Style of modern campaigns[edit]

Critics also blame political consulting, at least in part, for a variety of ills of the modern election process.[citation needed] In part because broadcast media consultants are often paid on commission, they are blamed specifically for the rising cost of political campaigns and the increasing reliance on paid media.[citation needed] A successful candidate running a low-budget campaign would be a serious economic threat to the political consulting field; such candidates, however, are rare.[citation needed]

Some activists, particularly within the Democratic Party, charge that political consultants are a major obstacle to participatory democracy, political reform, and electoral success for the Democrats. In a much-publicized e-mail on December 9, 2004, the online activist group MoveOn.org wrote, "For years, the Party has been led by elite Washington insiders who are closer to corporate lobbyists than they are to the Democratic base. But we can't afford four more years of leadership by a consulting class of professional election losers."

Lastly, there is growing professional opposition to what is called a "cookie cutter campaign", where the themes and strategies of one campaign are transferred to another campaign, despite what may be major differences in political context.[citation needed]

Social media in modern campaigns[edit]

Social media have dramatically changed the way in which modern political campaigns are run. With more generation X and Generation Y coming into the voting population, social media are the platforms on which the politicians need to establish themselves and engage with the voters. Especially in a digital age, social media will be more important than traditional media to the politicians.

In Australia, 86% of Australians access the Internet, and with a 17,048,864 voting age population (according to IDEA, http://www.idea.int/vt/countryview.cfm?CountryCode=AU), around 14,662,023 voting population has access to Internet, and 65% of them use social media, which means 9,530,314 Australian voters use social media. (The 2013 Yellow™ Social Media Report found that among internet users 65% of Australians use social media, up from 62% last year.) [6]

Trade organizations[edit]

The American Association of Political Consultants is the major trade association for political consultants in the United States, with thousands of members. Like similar professional organizations, it propagates a code of ethics and gives out awards (the much-coveted "Pollies").

Magazine of record[edit]

The political consulting industry's trade publication is Campaigns & Elections.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Political Consultant". International Encyclopedia of Communication. Retrieved 2012-11-07. 
  2. ^ "Political Consultant". International Encyclopedia of Communication. Retrieved 2012-11-07. 
  3. ^ "Political Strategist". Tennessee.Gov. Retrieved 2012-11-07. 
  4. ^ "Political Consultant Job Description, Career as a Political Consultant, Salary, Employment - Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job". Net Industries. Retrieved 2012-11-07. 
  5. ^ "Political Consultant Job Description, Career as a Political Consultant, Salary, Employment - Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job". Net Industries. Retrieved 2012-11-07. 
  6. ^ "Political Campaign and Social Media". Political Marketing. Retrieved 2014-01-16. 

Further reading[edit]

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