There’s an old saying that goes something like this: when you run for office is just as important as how you run for office. It’s a bit of advice that I happen to agree with; some simple historical voting research and analysis of current voter sentiment can give you a better chance at winning a local election by launching your campaign during an election cycle that will be more friendly to your efforts.
Here’s the problem: not everyone who wants to run for local office is willing to wait months or years to kick off a political campaign, and many eager candidates jump into a race without doing any research at all about historic election cycles. Most of these shoot-from-the-hip local candidates go on to lose their political campaign on election day, and are too demoralized to ever run again.
Being wise about which election cycle you put your name on the ballot starts with getting some historical election results and voting data from your county board of elections studying the data. Let’s use, for example, a city council race with a term that is up for re-election every two years. In this case, I would get election results going back about eight years and look at each of the four previous election cycles.
With this data, you’ll be able to identify some important trends: which election cycles are friendliest to first-time candidates (due to low turnout), which election cycles are friendlier to well-known names (due to higher turnout), and which election cycles tend to favor particular political parties.
Several factors could result in specific election cycles having the characteristics I listed above: presidential campaign years, gubernatorial campaign years, and years when there simply isn’t much interest in local elections at all.
With a little bit of research, you should be able to quickly identify which election cycle will be the best year for you to run. You usually won’t have to wait much more that a year or two in order to put your name on the ballot and make your eventual election day victory more likely.
Having said all of that, however, don’t let me discourage you from tossing your hat in the ring immediately if you have a gut feeling that your hard work can overcome the odds. There’s never any time like the presence, but with a bit of patience you could increase your likelihood of winning by a few points.