Politics and Governance

With a Handshake and a Smile: The Human Aspect of Political Campaigns

Pundits, news anchors and John Centipede Citizen, to borrow a phrase, will all tell you that this is an historic election year for a variety of reasons. For the second time, a presidential nominee has selected a woman as his running mate. We, the voting public, came very close to nominating the first female candidate for president of the United States, and we did nominate the first African American to be the presidential candidate from a major political party. Meanwhile, our military continues to fight two wars abroad, and we are wading through some of the worst economic times since the early 80s and potentially since the Great Depression. This election will chart our course for the next century.

If the challenges posed by current issues did not suffice as complications to the election process, consider the mechanics of conducting a campaign. On the one hand, you have people that are intensely motivated by particular issues or candidates, and they want to fight for those issues and support those candidates.

Then, on the other hand, you have a somewhat complicated apparatus for capturing and weighing political sentiment. The public reacts to images of Barack Obama or John McCain at their political conventions by saying, “Well, they obviously have the support of their party.” But for these two candidates to reach their party conventions, they depend upon the tireless efforts of countless campaign staff members and volunteers who act openly upon their political convictions.

But who populates the behind-the-scenes work of producing a campaign? Volunteers canvass neighborhoods, knocking on strangers’ doors and initiating conversations about issues that split families and start fights between friends. An organized campaign staff likely receives little to no compensation for their efforts, yet they spend their days overseeing every aspect of the campaign, including the candidate. And election law specialists make sense of garbled election guidelines, figuring how far the campaign can push its case without stepping over the lines.

More importantly, though, campaigns need you, me, Uncle Robert, Aunt Robin, grandmothers and grandfathers, and balloons. They require yard signs and bumper stickers, media professionals, campaign experts and daily poll results that read like the $5 insider pick pamphlets that you pick up outside a race track. And campaigns never include insurance against an election night loss that feels like a sucker punch to the kidneys.

Ultimately, elections require a handshake and a smile albeit from a campaign staffer or your average John Citizen. These briefly meaningful human interactions catalyze the tiny American revolutions that rhythmically chart the past, present, and future of our democracy.

Sean Reyna

Sean Reyna is the Business Manager of the LBJ Journal and a 2009 master's candidate. He has co-authored and researched a report to the Congressional Research Service about Federal Lines of Business Initiatives. He has researched electronic government for the State of California. His policy interests revolve around the use of IT to increase government efficiency. He has degrees in both English and geography.

This piece was adapted from Reyna’s opening statements on this week’s episode of Dialectica Radio, a show that examines the civic, political, and economic issues that matter to us all on global, national, and local levels. Dialectica is brought to you by students of the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, is broadcast live over the internet by KVRX Austin 91.7 FM Student Radio at, and is produced in partnership with the LBJ Journal of Public Affairs.


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