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Behind some of the most successful politicians stand the campaign strategists, often highly paid ones. For political strategists, running a successful campaign can lead to a lucrative career developing media strategies and managing campaigns. Strategists such as James Carville and Karl Rove managed the presidential campaigns of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush respectively, and became almost as well known as the candidates they helped get elected.
CNN Money reported in 2004 that approximately half of the political consultants and strategists in the U.S. made more than $100,000 a year. In fact, some strategists have the potential to earn much more. However, achieving those high salaries requires years of political work. In addition, CNN Money reported that between U.S. elections, many strategists provide consulting services to corporations, unions and even candidates in other countries.
Types of political strategists and consultants include pollsters, media strategists and opposition researchers. Pollsters conduct frequent polls, analyze the results, brief candidates and campaign staff on the polls, and help develop campaign strategies based on the results. Media strategists produce campaign advertisements, coordinate advertising efforts and help candidates hone their message to voters. Opposition researchers help their candidates by digging up dirt on the opposition, searching for ways to illustrate for voters the differences between the candidates. According to CNN Money, successful strategists in all three jobs can earn more than $100,000 a year.
Pollsters can expect to put in long hours, sometimes as much as 18 to 20 hours a day, in the heat of a campaign season, according to CNN Money, quoting Ed Goeas, a Republican pollster and strategist. Earning the six-figure salaries of top pollsters can take up to 10 years, Goeas told CNN, depending on the size of the campaigns with which a strategist works.
The central role that television and advertising play in political campaigns underscores the significance of media strategists. Dramatically portrayed in the 1986 film "Power," starring Richard Gere, media strategists shape the image and message of political candidates. CNN Money reported that many strategists start out as campaign communications directors or press secretaries, jobs that put them in contact with media strategists, potentially leading to full-time work as a political strategist. Associate strategists may start out at $50,000 to $100,000 a year, depending on their campaign experience, according to CNN, which added that some top strategists earn more than $500,000 a year.
Opposition researchers spend hours poring over the voting records, biographies and other details of opposing candidates, looking for ways to put the opponents in a bad light. Like other political strategist jobs, working as an opposition researcher requires that you pay your dues before achieving the high salaries of top strategists. CNN Money quoted Jason Stanford, a top Democratic opposition researcher, who said beginning researchers may make less than $30,000 a year, but that experienced ones can make more than $100,000 a year.