What is a politician?
A politician is someone who holds a government office or finds other ways to influence law and public policy. Politicians can work on a local or national scale and have influence over various bureaucratic processes and government decisions on behalf of the community they represent.
In the United States, politicians are usually elected officials or people seeking election to a leadership position where they can influence public opinion and shape laws and policies. Politicians build relationships with constituents and advocate for certain core beliefs that they plan to uphold through their decision-making.
Types of politicians
Politicians in the United States can work in the legislative, executive and judicial sectors of the government. They are generally aligned with a political party that helps them connect with voters and work toward common goals. Depending on the office they hold, some politicians work part-time in addition to another job while others known as "career politicians" work full-time. Some of the office positions a politician can hold include:
City councilors, also known as aldermen, work on a local level to distribute the city budget and develop laws and ordinances that reflect the needs of constituents. City councilors are generally focused on community issues and involved with improving public services and supporting local schools. Councilors may focus on one particular aspect of public services, such as education, transportation or housing.
County commissioners enforce local laws, codes and ordinances. They oversee the sheriff’s department and allocate money within the budget for maintaining infrastructure and unincorporated areas. Some areas have both a council and a commission, while others incorporate the responsibilities of both roles into one position.
Mayors are the head of a city and are generally part of the city council or commission. Some cities elect the mayor separately, while others have councilors appoint the mayor from the council on a rotating basis. Mayors oversee a city’s administration and city planning.
A governor is the highest-ranking official of a state’s government. Governors collaborate with state legislators to distribute funds and enact changes to the law. They have the power to appoint judges and other government positions and veto legislation.
Legislators in the state or national House of Representatives, also known as congressmen or congresswomen, serve two-year terms proposing bills and serving on government oversight committees.
Senators review bills submitted from the House of Representatives and decide whether to pass them into laws. They also have the power to confirm federal appointments like Supreme Court Justices. Senators are up for re-election every six years.
The presidency is the highest elected office in the United States. The president is in charge of the military and can approve or veto laws. Politicians pursuing the presidency may meet with current elected officials and foreign leaders. The president works with members of Congress to meet certain policy goals.
Cabinet members are not elected but are instead appointed by the president to give advice to the president on various policy areas. There are 15 cabinet secretaries including the secretary of state, secretary of education and secretary of defense.
What do politicians do?
Politicians organize their daily responsibilities depending on the level of government they work with. A local politician will likely spend more time face-to-face with community members solving local issues than a national politician who spends time traveling to different states campaigning and meeting with community leaders. Politicians at any level will generally have a combination of these duties and tasks:
- Interact with constituents
- Listen to concerns about public issues
- Serve on committees
- Write laws
- Create and approve budgets
- Campaign for votes
- Give speeches
Jobs on a politician’s staff
Politicians often have a staff of employees to help them manage their responsibilities, especially during election season. They rely on people who believe in their candidacy and are willing to provide professional expertise and network on their behalf to reach voters and policymakers. People who are interested in building a career in politics but do not want to be politicians themselves often work as an employee of a politician affiliated with their political beliefs. A politician’s staff is made up of several key roles, including:
A campaign manager, also known as a campaign director is responsible for coordinating all elements of a politician’s election plan. Their ultimate goal is to get their candidate elected through public outreach and fundraising. The campaign manager collaborates with a political candidate to decide on their policy focus and strategy for earning votes.
Related: Campaign Manager Job Description
The communications coordinator on a politician’s staff handles all of a politician’s communications including press releases, social media posts, speeches and interviews. They have a strong influence over the image a candidate projects to the public and work to show a consistent and likable sense of character to appeal to voters.
Public relations manager
Candidates may hire a PR manager to gain public support for their policy goals. PR managers collaborate with communications managers to strategically release statements and respond to challenges from political competitors.
Chief of staff
The chief of staff is a consulting and administrative role that keeps track of every member of a politician’s staff. They report directly to a politician and make key decisions about hiring, budgeting and organizational policies. A chief of staff solves problems and mediates issues to allow a candidate to stay focused on getting elected or creating policy.
Related: How to Hire a Chief of Staff
Running for office generally requires a large amount of fundraising, so politicians hire finance directors to oversee revenue streams and handle financial reporting. They create fundraising goals and plan events to generate enough donations to reach a wider audience.
Field organizers create a plan for directly contacting voters through grassroots methods like canvassing and phone banking. They are the point of contact for volunteers and schedule large-scale campaign events to connect a candidate with their constituents. Field organizers have an in-depth understanding of a candidate’s policy stances and train volunteers and employees on various talking points.