Endorsements Guide: Factors to Consider When Endorsing a Candidate

At the end of the day, you’re endorsing a candidate because you think they’re the best person to hold political office. But making that assessment involves thinking through a lot of factors about who the candidate is, what they stand for, and what their chances are. This chapter reviews key factors your Indivisible group will want to consider.

Values and Policies

Candidates should share your values and care about bold policies that your group does. What issues does your candidate focus on? What policies do they support? Do they share your values? In order to answer these questions, you may need to define for your own group what’s most important. No one knows your community or your group better than you do, and no one can better assess if a candidate than you can. By clearly stating your values and preferred policies, and what you’re looking for in an elected official, you can help shape the prominent issues in a race and push candidates to reflect your values.

When defining your values, it can be helpful to refer to our 2020 Grassroots Playbook, where we’ve outlined 7 core issue areas that we believe will drive the 2020 campaign. 

Representation Matters

Public policy is better when the people at the table reflect the diverse range of backgrounds and experiences of our nation. Americans all have life experiences that impact their understanding of politics and policy, and every elected official -- people of color, women, religious minorities, and disabled and LGBTQ+ -- brings their personal background to the table. 

Today, straight white men make up the vast majority of the U.S. House and Senate. This is a big problem, but it’s not new and it’s not an accident. Our government was originally structured to explicitly exclude participation from non-white and non-male Americans. Decisions are made by the people in the room, and for generations, that room was intentionally kept white and male. 

This is bad for democracy, and a progressive movement working to represent the people must aim to do better. Even among those who hold progressive beliefs, unconscious biases can still impact our perceptions of women and people of color who run for office. Unfortunately, well-meaning attempts to “not see gender” or “not see race” can still wind up putting candidates who are not white men at a disadvantage. We have to consciously overturn the patterns of discrimination that have historically kept women, people of color, and other marginalized groups out of political power.

When contemplating making an endorsement, we encourage you to recognize the importance of seeking out and supporting candidates from underrepresented communities. While a candidate’s race or gender will not be the only factor in choosing whether or not to endorse, we cannot ignore these factors if we want politicians who truly reflect our electorate and movement.

Viability/Electability - but only to a certain extent. 

Viability (also referred to as electability) is how we describe a candidate’s chances of winning. To be blunt, it’s a buzzword for political hacks, and it’s usually used to describe why some upstart candidate has no chance. The thing is, hacks are often flat wrong. Remember when Trump was considered totally not viable? Yeah. This is why we include the “viability” factor with some strong caveats. 

In reality, the importance you place on viability depends on the local context and your Indivisible group’s goals. If you’re in a swing district with an open seat, there may be a dozen candidates in the primary, some much stronger than others. Understanding who’s got a strong foundation can help you decide where to focus attention. On the other hand, if you’ve got a front-runner who’s the overwhelming favorite but consistently votes against progressive values, you may want to endorse a longshot progressive candidate -- even if they don’t have much of a chance of winning the primary. 

Candidates anointed by a party -- both those recruited to run and incumbents -- aim to give the impression of invulnerability. This is a smart tactic, but no candidate is actually invulnerable. Even the most entrenched establishment politicians can be defeated by a challenger with a clear vision, strong fundraising, and excellent campaign strategy. 

Typical component parts of viability: 

  • Money: The lazy political hack will look at money and little else. There are two main factors to consider here: the candidate’s overall financial strength and the percentage of donations that come from small-dollar donors. For financial strength, what’s most important is not exact dollar amounts but rather how each candidate is doing in comparison to the others. You’ll want to look at current Cash on Hand to get a sense of campaigns’ books. For federal elections, you can find candidate fundraising information on the Federal Election Commission’s (FEC) website. Federal candidates have to report their fundraising totals every quarter (this is why you get a barrage of fundraising emails in the final days of before a quarter ends - they’re trying to goose their stats). For state elections (for Governor, Attorney General, State Senator, State Delegate, etc.), the information will be available on a state website – usually your state’s Secretary of State or Department of Elections page.

    Just as important as overall financial health is the percentage of donations coming from small donors. As an organization, we believe that money in politics is a big problem and dilutes the voices of the American people. It is absolutely worth giving extra consideration to candidates with a strong record of small-dollar donations. People with the wealthiest friends or the ability to self-fund shouldn’t be able to buy their way into a seat.  We as a national organization will not endorse a candidate for federal office unless they have pledged to reject corporate PAC donations, and we encourage groups to do the same. The FEC website does list small-dollar vs. high-dollar donations, but OpenSecrets does a particularly good job of laying out this information in a clear manner. If a candidate does have a lot of big-dollar donations, it’s also helpful to check out whether that money is coming from industries and companies who don’t represent progressive values or good governance and labor groups.  

  • Polling: Polls seem objective -- it’s just numbers! -- but the reality is that they move up and down significantly over the course of a race, and different polls may show very different results. Polling can be a tricky business, and like anything in politics, candidates will try to use polls to their advantage. Upstart candidates will often release sketchy polls to establish that they have a chance, incumbents may trumpet their own popularity polls to show just how invulnerable they are.

    In some races (particularly statewide races, like the Governor’s race or a Senate race), there will be frequent public polling. In others, including some House races, Mayor’s races, City or County Council elections, and State Senate or Delegate races, polling may be harder to come by. Some well-respected resources for both polls and general race monitoring include Daily Kos Election Report, and Cook Political Report. You can sign up on the Daily Kos website to receive their daily election updates, which give a great nationwide look at key races. Cook Political keeps a tracker on races for the US House of Representatives, Senate, and Governor, and updates once a week as we get closer to election day

  • Other Endorsements (including other Indivisibles!): As you head into making your own endorsement decision, it’s helpful to be aware of the landscape of endorsements for all candidates in the race. Endorsements that take into account other progressive movement partners will be even stronger for this collaboration.

    It’s also very important to consider how other Indivisible groups are approaching making an endorsement in the same race. In many congressional districts across the nation, there are more than one Indivisible group doing work on their home turf; your endorsement will be even more powerful if you coordinate on a fair process and end up uniting around the same candidate!