Lauren from Ohio writes us this week with a great question about how old you need to be to run a successful campaign for office:
“I am 22 and considering running political campaign in the next election for city council. Do you think I am too young to be a candidate? I know that a lot of voters might question my youth but I am also very motivated, hard working and educated on the issues. Do you suggest that I run for office or wait and get more experience? If so, what is the minimum age that someone should be when they run in their first election?”
Lauren, you’ve heard me say this before: the only qualifications you need to run for office are being of legal voting age and a resident of the district you are running in (unless, of course, you want to run for Congress or for president; there are, of course, different age requirements for those offices).
If you really want to run for office and feel that you have the drive and the talent to win, then you shouldn’t let anyone talk you out of it.
In fact, I personally know several people who became local elected officials at a young age. One acquaintance of mine was even elected as City Council President before he was old enough to legally drink! He campaigned very hard and lost one race before winning the next, but his work paid off and the residents eventually looked past his youth and voted for him because of his dedication.
So yes, it is very possible to win a political campaign for local office at a young age, and it happens every year all across the country. All things considered, though, you will have more of an uphill battle to win votes because of your youth. While you may be the best candidate for the job, it is often very difficult for some voters to see you as anything more than young and inexperienced.
I experienced this myself to some degree when I ran for City Council at the age of 32. Although I considered myself an educated and mature adult, many older voters still shook their head and smiled at the thought of a “kid” my age running such a great campaign. One gentleman even jokingly asked me if I was old enough to shave when I knocked on his door!
If I got that kind of a reception from some voters at the age of 32, it’s going to be ten times more of an issue for you as a 22-year-old political candidate. You should expect to get plenty of comments about your age, and prepare yourself ahead of time to stay calm, positive and friendly whenever you hear them.
Truthfully, the unique dynamics of your particular political race has more to do with whether you have a good shot at winning than does your age. Are you running for an open seat? Is your opponent a lazy campaigner? Is it an at-large race in which you only need to be one of the top three vote-getters to win a seat?
These questions and many more are what you should focus on, not whether or not your age will turn voters off. If you make an objective assessment and feel that the race really is winnable, then by all means toss your hat into the ring.
One final word of advice, though: if you run and aren’t successful, take some time off and consider your options before jumping right back into another political race the next year. Building your name recognition and profile in the community for a few years might be a better choice than racking up a string of political losses.