Who are the campaigners in America?

Posted on Fri, Dec 13, 2013


UPDATE: Since we released this data we have found several irregularities. These process and how we adjusted based on these irregularities can be found in our updated post. 

For the full results of the new analysis you can click here.


“What Bobby Kennedy called the ripples of hope that come out when you throw a stone in the lake—that’s going to be you . . .”

- Barack Obama, speaking to his campaign team in Chicago after his successful re-election in 2012.

The people who staff campaigns have influence beyond Election Day. Campaigners are close to power, they guide the hand of our candidates for public office, influence how our public discourse is framed and on what terms our democracy is negotiated. Like ripples in a pond, the influence of campaigners extends throughout American politics.

At NOI we believe the staff composition of campaigns matters; that representative campaigns help build representative democracies. These beliefs drove us to seek to answer this important question: Who are the campaigners in America?

We convened a team of researchers to compile expenditure data from the Federal Elections Commission, to extract data about individuals to whom payroll or salary payments were issued, and match it to a voter file enhanced with commercial data. This allowed us to create, for the first time, an evidence-based assessment of the staff composition of federal-level American campaigns. Using this method we were able to determine with good confidence the race/ethnicity and gender of 16,241 individual campaign staffers from 2012.

Before we dive into the data, a caveat: drawing consistent information from FEC reports is a bit like trying to get pure flour back out of a fully baked cake. In addition to regular paychecks, individuals are sometimes issued reimbursements, bonuses, or payments that are simply not annotated at all. The address listed for employees might be their home address, it might be their temporary campaign address, or it might be campaign HQ. Even with the most exhaustive effort we would still be unable to untangle completely the twisted web of these federal reports.

We took what we considered to be the most practical and least-flawed approach to processing and analyzing the data and we’re confident that our findings are an accurate reflection of the composition of federal-level campaign staff. You don’t have to take our word for it, though. If you’d like to check the data, here it is.

Now that that’s out of the way . . .

The racial/ethnic diversity of staff on Democratic campaigns appears impressive. African Americans account for 12% of the American workforce (source) but account for more than twice that share of the workforce on Democratic federal-level campaigns. Staffers of Hispanic and Asian backgrounds are not represented on campaigns at the same level as the overall workforce, but Democratic campaigns are considerably more balanced by this measure than Republican campaigns. Women are underrepresented on campaigns. Republican campaigns have more pronounced disparities both in gender and racial/ethnic representation among campaign staff. 54.2% of all staff on Republican federal-level campaigns are white men, compared to 32.4% on Democratic races. Even on the more gender-balanced Democratic campaigns, however, there are 116 men for every 100 women staffers.

So should we break out the champagne and congratulate the Democrats for building representative campaigns?


African American staffers on Democratic federal-level campaigns are paid 70 cents on the dollar compared to their white counterparts; Hispanics are paid 68 cents on the dollar.

Women on campaigns are also paid less than men, although at a rate not too far from parity: 95 cents on the dollar. Interestingly, although the proportions of staff are more skewed towards white men on Republican campaigns, the income disparities are more pronounced on Democratic campaigns.

We do not have enough information in front of us to say definitively exactly what’s going on here -- it could be the case that women and ethnic minorities are being paid less for the same work on campaigns, though standardized campaign payscales make this less likely (for example, many if not most campaigns have a flat payscale for workers at a certain level, $30,000/yr for a field organizer, e.g.). More likely, members of these groups are being hired for lower-level jobs and not moving into leadership positions proportionally. Perhaps it’s both. Although the overall representation of ethnic minorities on Democratic campaigns appears healthy when the numbers are viewed from thirty thousand feet, the salary disparities suggest that this representation becomes greatly diminished as you move up the campaign ladder.

Whatever the cause, the highest-level campaigns in America do not appear to have embraced a fully diverse workforce. This unfortunate echo of staffing disparities present in other sectors is a blemish on our campaigns and an impediment to a truly representative democracy.

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