What political management students think about campaign ethics

What political management students think about campaign ethics – News Feed

Robin Kolodny

During the summer and fall of 2002, the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University conducted a survey of campaign management alumni from several professional education programs. Although the survey covered several topics relating to the alumni’s experiences, we were especially interested in determining if graduates of these programs were working in politics before and after their program, if their education assisted them in gaining positions in politics, and how the training they received in campaign ethics translated into their daily work and views.

We surveyed alumni from a variety of programs: The Women’s Campaign School at Yale University (a short-term training program); the Campaign Management Institute at American University (a four-credit undergraduate and graduate course); the University of Akron (master’s degree: MA); Suffolk University (MA); the University of Florida (MA); George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management (MA); and Regent University (MA). Surveys were mailed to 1,548 potential respondents (excluding returns-to-sender); we received 469 valid completed surveys for a response rate of 30.3 percent. Respondents had the option of completing the survey by mail or via a secure Web site.

In one question, we asked “What were your reasons for pursuing this program in political management?” The two most Important were a general interest in campaigns and elections and the prospects for employment in campaign management after completing the program. We found that a lack of opportunity to pursue political-management coursework as an undergraduate and the ability to procure internships were the least important reasons for program pursuit.

We asked respondents about the opportunities to pursue internship or mentoring relationships in their programs. Not surprisingly, virtually all the internship opportunities were found in longer-term MA programs. As for mentoring, we still found that MA programs generally provide such opportunities, with 48 percent of respondents reporting that they could receive mentoring. Only 26 percent of those in non-MA programs had access to mentoring as a program component.

A majority (57 percent) of those who had the opportunity to have a mentor found the experience helpful in advancing their professional careers. However, a significant minority, 43 percent, did not. The American Association of Political Consultants’ new mentoring initiative should keep this result in mind while they are determining the shape of their program.

While only 105 respondents held full-time employment in political positions before the program, 246 did after completing their programs. We also found the number of people holding positions in non-political fields declined from 99 to 77. It is very encouraging to see that so many students are going to work in a political environment. We know from their responses that many graduates were employed by campaigns or interest groups involved in the 2002 elections.

We then asked respondents how important their program has been for helping alumni obtain professional positions in politics. Seventy-one percent said their program was either very useful or some what useful in this regard. That is an exceptionally high success rate and should speak to the utility of professional campaign management programs in cultivating a professional class of new election workers.

Respondents were even more enthusiastic about the utility of their programs in helping them perform professional political work. Indeed, 84 percent responded that their training was either very useful or somewhat useful in helping them do political work. Perhaps this figure indicates a substitution of professional training for on-the-job training, which was the only method of socialization for campaign workers before the creation of political management programs.

We asked several questions regarding respondents’ views of campaign ethics. Exactly half of all respondents said unethical practices happen fairly often or often.

When asked whether ethical training should be included in political management programs, almost all respondents said yes. Likewise, 87 percent of alumni felt that there should be a professional code of ethics for political consultants; a slightly smaller number (78 percent) felt a professional organization should be able to censure consultants for unethical behavior. Perhaps one of the most surprising findings was that only 28 percent of respondents were familiar with the American Association of Political Consultant’s code of ethics.

Finally, we see that 90 percent of alumni of political management programs would encourage others to complete a similar program. Overall, students have been quite satisfied with their experiences and training–even if they elected to pursue non-political employment.

Our preliminary findings show that professional political management programs have great promise for socializing new political professionals in a positive manner. The programs are raising the awareness of ethical dilemmas in campaigns and are connecting students with mentors. Encouraging young people with aspirations for political work to pursue training or degree programs is well worth their investment of time and money.

Survey Note: Respondents’ racial homogeneity is consistent with the largely white world of professional consulting. The median year of program completion was 1998, and the median respondent age at the time of the survey was 31 years. The sample population was 54.1 percent female and 45.9 percent male. A majority (57.1 percent,) hold a master’s degree, which is not unexpected given that all but two of the training programs award a master’s degree. Slightly more than half the respondents (53.9 percent) identified themselves as Democrats, while 35.3 percent of respondents identified as Republicans, and 7.8 percent identified as independents. Almost 90 percent of respondents are white, with the remainder of the sample consisting of blacks, Hispanics, Asians and other ethnic groups.

Robin Kolodny is an associate professor of political science at Temple University. R. Sam Garrett is a Ph.D. student and graduate assistant at American University’s Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies. James A. Thurber is a professor of government and director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies. Candice J. Nelson is an associate professor of government and academic director of the Campaign Management Institute, American University.

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