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Running for public office, especially at the national level, involves much more than giving speeches and shaking hands. Political campaigning is a multimillion-dollar business and candidates rely on campaign directors, media consultants and other political advisers (sometimes spelled "advisors") to help them market themselves and hone their message to prospective voters. Beginning political advisers may struggle on small salaries, but working with a successful, high-profile campaign can catapult an adviser into the political consulting elite.
The annual salaries earned by political advisers and consultants vary widely, but about 50 percent of them earn more than $100,000 a year, according to a 2004 report by CNN Money. Top campaign managers and media consultants working for major political campaigns, such as a leading presidential candidate, can earn much more.
Political advisers and consultants include pollsters, opposition researchers and media strategists. Pollsters conduct polls, analyze the data, brief campaigns about the results and advise candidates how to tailor their message based on the polls. Opposition researchers help candidates draw contrasts between themselves and their opponents by researching the lives and records of opposing candidates. The importance of television and radio advertising in political campaigns makes media strategists especially important in political campaigns. Media strategists produce advertisements, write candidate speeches and advise candidates on developing an image to present to voters. All three of these political adviser jobs have the potential for high earnings, but CNN Money cautioned that most advisers earning high salaries do so only after years of hard work for much lower pay.
Pollsters and Researchers
Pollsters have the potential to earn more than $100,000 a year, but CNN Money reported that these advisers should expect to work long hours – sometimes 18 to 20 hours a day. Pollsters also may toil at their jobs for up to 10 years, depending on the size of the campaigns with which they work, before earning the high salaries of leading pollsters. Beginning opposition researchers may earn less than $30,000 a year, but experienced specialists in this field could earn as much as $250,000 a year, according to a leading Democratic opposition researcher quoted by CNN Money.
Some media strategists start their political careers by working as communications directors or press secretaries for a campaign, enabling them to build contacts with media strategists and other political professionals, according to CNN Money. Jim Duffy, a partner in a firm that advises Democratic candidates, reported that his firm may hire associate media strategists for $50,000 to $100,000 a year, depending on the person’s experience. Top strategists, however, can earn salaries as high as $500,000 a year.
Shane Hall is a writer and research analyst with more than 20 years of experience. His work has appeared in "Brookings Papers on Education Policy," "Population and Development" and various Texas newspapers. Hall has a Doctor of Philosophy in political economy and is a former college instructor of economics and political science.