Major campaigns in the United States are often much longer than those in other democracies.
Campaigns start anywhere from several months to several years before election day. The first part of any campaign for a candidate is deciding to run. Prospective candidates will often speak with family, friends, professional associates, elected officials, community leaders, and the leaders of political parties before deciding to run. Candidates are often recruited by political parties and lobby groups interested in electing like-minded politicians. During this period, people considering running for office will consider their ability to put together the money, organization, and public image needed to get elected. Many campaigns for major office do not progress past this point as people often do not feel confident in their ability to win. However, some candidates lacking the resources needed for a competitive campaign proceed with an inexpensive paper campaign or informational campaign designed to raise public awareness and support for their positions.
Once a person decides to run, they will make a public announcement. This announcement could consist of anything from a simple press release to concerned media outlets to a major media event followed by a speaking tour. It is often well-known to many people that a candidate will run prior to an announcement being made. Campaigns will often be announced and then only officially “kicked off” months after active campaigning has begun. Being coy about whether a candidacy is planned is often a deliberate strategy by a prospective candidate, either to “test the waters” or to keep the media’s attention.
One of the most important aspects of the major American political campaign is the ability to raise large sums of money, especially early on in the race. Political insiders and donors often judge candidates based on their ability to raise money. Not raising enough money early on can lead to problems later as donors are not willing to give funds to candidates they perceive to be losing, a perception based on their poor fundraising performance.
Also during this period, candidates travel around the area they are running in and meet with voters; speaking to them in large crowds, small groups, or even one-on-one. This allows voters to get a better picture of who a candidate is than that which they read about in the paper or see on television. Campaigns sometimes launch expensive media campaigns during this time to introduce the candidate to voters, although most wait until closer to election day.
Campaigns often dispatch volunteers into local communities to meet with voters and persuade people to support the candidate. The volunteers are also responsible for identifying supporters, recruiting them as volunteers or registering them to vote if they are not already registered. The identification of supporters will be useful later as campaigns remind voters to cast their votes.
Late in the campaign, campaigns will launch expensive television, radio, and direct mail campaigns aimed at persuading voters to support the candidate. Campaigns will also intensify their grassroots campaigns, coordinating their volunteers in a full court effort to win votes.
Voting in the United States often starts weeks before election day as mail-in ballots are a commonly used voting method. Campaigns will often run two persuasion programs, one aimed at mail-in voters and one aimed at the more traditional poll voters.
Campaigns for minor office may be relatively simple and inexpensive – talking to local newspapers, giving out campaign signs, and greeting people in the local square.