Top 10 Reasons Political Candidates Lose Elections

Why do so many candidates for public office lose elections?

In my professional experience, there are typically ten main reasons why candidates fail to win the office they are running for.

Some of these reasons can be avoided or fixed. Others however cannot.

Knowing these reasons, seeing if they exist in your campaign, and making the proper adjustments can make the difference between you winning…or losing your race.

1. The Candidate Doesn’t Raise Enough Money

You may not like it, but raising money is an essential part of political campaigning.

If you’re going to reach the voters and win your election you need to buy signs, send out mailers, blast out text messages, pay for professional assistance, place ads in digital spaces and possibly in traditional media outlets.

I’ve seen too many good candidates fail to run an effective campaign because they lacked the financial resources.

How to Avoid This:  Block off plenty of time during your day and week to make fundraising calls and meet with potential donors.

Hire a professional fundraiser if need be and if you don’t have a fundraising list, start one by learning our Back of the Envelope Fundraising Strategy.

(If you want to learn more about how to be a successful fundraiser, the Jump Start Your Fundraising premium course is right for you)

2. The Candidate Doesn’t Have a Good Message

If you don’t have a good message, you’re not going to connect with anyone.

If you can’t connect with the voters, then you aren’t going to persuade any of them to vote for you.

Too many candidates spend way too much time talking about themselves and things that aren’t important to the voters.

They don’t have a winning story that resonates with the voters and builds a connection.

How to Avoid This:  First find out what issues are most important to the voters. Identify the issue or issues that cause them the most pain.

Conducting a poll is a great way learn what issues really matter with the voters.

Once you know the key issue or top issues, develop your plan to address these matters and things better for the voters when you are elected.

Then you can present yourself as the candidate who can get that job done and is worthy of the support of the voters.

(With the candidates I work with, I use a six step method to create their campaign message, which I also teach in the premium course called The Winning Message)

3. The Candidates Spends Their Resources on the Wrong Things

Too many candidates don’t know what to do with their time and their money, so they spend them on the wrong things.

What are the wrong things?  The things that don’t help them win.

They spend their money on campaign junk like coffee cups and bumper stickers, but not on mailers or phone banks.

Instead of knocking on doors or sitting down to make phone calls, potentially talking to 100’s of voters each day, they spend their scarce time at meet and greet events where maybe 20 people show up and half of them are already supporters.

How to Avoid This:  Devote your time and your money to things that connect with the most voters in the most effective way.

You will never have enough time nor money to do everything you want to do, so focus solely on the things that can get your message, your winning story, out to the largest block of voters.

Hiring a professional consultant to create a campaign plan or to advise you on the entire campaign can help you focus on what you should be doing.

4. The Candidate Doesn’t Fit the District

Not every district is friendly or ripe for the picking for every candidate.

Ted Cruz could never represent San Francisco. Nancy Pelosi would come in dead last in Amarillo.

In partisan races, it is difficult for even a centrist Democrat to get elected in a heavily Republican district.

It’ll also be hard for a moderate Republican to win a solid Democratic seat.

The numbers of party loyalists are simply stacked against any member of the other party regardless of qualifications.

And partisan primaries (both open and closed) skew to the edges of the ideological spectrum.

Far Left Progressives who embrace Socialism often beat old school Liberals in Democratic Primaries.

That’s how an unknown 28 year old named Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez beat a 20 year Congressional incumbent in 2018.

Likewise, in Republican Primaries the candidate who can convince the voters he is the “most conservative” will beat another Republican who has what most would consider to be solid conservative credentials.

This was proven true on Super Tuesday 2024 where incumbent Republican Congressmen Barry Moore defeated fellow Republican Congressman Jerry Carl by presenting himself as the most conservative of the two.

Even in nonpartisan contests, if you hold views that are contradictory to the views of the majority of voters, you will have a hard time getting elected if you are honest about your positions.

With even our local elections are becoming more partisan, this is something you need to pay attention to.

Aside from political and ideological positions, there are other factors that can determine if a candidate fits the district.

If you’re running in an area where the voters are predominantly composed of one ethnic group, and you are not of that ethnicity, you may have a hard time winning.

Undecided voters often will cast votes for the candidate whose last name is most similar to theirs.

It’s not racist, even if it could be described as prejudicial.  It’s merely human nature to default to what we are familiar with.

Should you be new to the area where you are running and haven’t established solid roots yet, the voters may not know you well to trust you yet and will have a hard time voting for you.

In my native hometown of Norco, California, and even my adopted home town of Franklin Tennessee, a person who runs for office and hasn’t lived there for more than six or seven years is looked on with heavy skepticism, even if they’ve been very involved with the community.

How to Avoid This:  Do your research and know your district before you decide to run.

If you’re running in a place where you are a major long shot for obvious reasons, you should probably seek another office.

If you are new to the community, you should sit this race out and volunteer on some other campaigns or with some local groups to establish the foundation you will need to run and win in the future.

5. The Candidate Challenges a Very Popular Incumbent

Believe it or not, there are still some very popular incumbent elected officials in America.

They are the ones who stay in touch with their constituents.

Their votes and actions in office reflect the views and the values of the people who put them in office in the first place.

Because of this, their name ID and the fundraising advantage of incumbency, these people are often very hard to beat.

I saw this happen in Riverside, California a few years back where first-term Mayor Rusty Bailey was seeking re-election and facing off against five challengers, including a sitting City Councilmember.

It is difficult, if not impossible to win outright with over 50% of the vote and avoid a runoff with a total of six candidates in the race.

The day before the election, I told Mayor Bailey’s Chief of Staff I thought he would finish in the high 40’s but it was next to impossible to get above 50%.

She thought it was possible as Rusty remained very popular with the voters.

I doubted her prediction and viewed it as wishful thinking.  But when the votes were counted, she was proven right — by a large margin.


How to Avoid This: Find something that makes the incumbent seem hypocritical and highlight this contradiction during your campaign.

If it’s strong enough and deeply riles up the voters, include this in your campaign’s messaging and put the incumbent on defense.

It could work, but it’s still a long shot with a popular incumbent.

A better course of action might be to wait.

When the incumbent leaves office, you might be well-positioned to be the successor.

You might even ally yourself with the incumbent to get their endorsement when the time comes.

6. The Candidate is Out of Touch with the Voters

The best way to beat an incumbent is to demonstrate for the voters that the incumbent has lost touch with what’s important to them.

However, any candidate can be out of touch — or be perceived that way.

They can talk about things that don’t matter to the voters or even worse, show little knowledge or concern for a major issue that is very much on the voters’ minds.

Voters don’t vote for people they think are out of touch with their concerns.

How to Avoid This:  At the most basic level, you need to be active in your community and know what’s going on there and what matters to the people you interact with.

Pay attention to what the local political conservation is on social media. You don’t need to engage, but you need to see what politically active users in your area are talking about.

Be mindful that Facebook and Twitter is not real life. They are tools to connect with people and stay on top of current trains of thoughts on certain matters.

Don’t be overly fooled or cowed by so-called “influencers.” Many are paid or otherwise make money to rile people up, so take their views and declarations with a full shaker of salt.

To get a bigger picture of this for your district, a poll is always a good way to identify what’s on the minds of the voters.

When you know that you can not only be in touch, but you can put together that vitally important winning story.

7. The Candidate’s Heart Isn’t Into Running for Office

More than once in my career I’ve told a  candidate, “I can’t want to win the election more than you do.”

It’s true.  No one can want to win more than the candidate.

Do you want to win the election more than anyone else involved in your campaign?

You must.

A candidate who is not 100% committed to running and winning an election, is likely to lose.

Often they learn that campaigning is harder work than they thought, and they’re just not able to do it.

Sometimes demands from work or family pull them out of it.

I’ve seen a health scare sideline a candidate.

And if your spouse isn’t 100% behind your election effort, that will almost always undercut your determination to win.

How to Avoid This:  If you can’t put in the time and energy to run for office, for whatever reason, then don’t run.

Unenthusiastic candidates seldom if ever make great elected officials.

Your community deserves someone who’s all in, both in the campaign and if elected.

8. The Candidate is the Center of a Scandal

Here’s a shocker for you, in politics scandals happen.

The unfortunate part is that sometimes they happen to you and they derail your electoral chances.

An opponent will bring out something from your past to smear you and paint you as unworthy of election.

There will be a lapse of judgment on the campaign trail and you’ll say or do something you shouldn’t.

These things are all ripe for the potential for scandal.

Some will work and some won’t, but if the voters get turned off and don’t trust you, there’s a good chance you will lose.

How to Avoid This:  Be honest about your past.

Let people know what happened (honestly), how you are sorry (if you are), and how you’ve learned from it (if you have).

If the voters let it go, then you’re in the clear.  If they have real issues with it, then you may want to rethink running for office.

The best way to avoid finding yourself in the midst of a scandal is to always watch what you say, don’t play games with money, and no matter what, never ever ever tear down your opponent’s signs.

9. The Candidate Doesn’t Knock on Doors

Candidates who don’t get out and knock on doors are most likely going to lose.  Especially in local elections.

One-on-one communication, face-to-face, at the door is the best way for a candidate to win a person’s trust and their vote.

If you’re not knocking on the voters doors and your opponent is, there’s a better chance than not that you won’t be victorious on Election Night.

How to Avoid This:  Get out there and walk. Then do it again and again and again.

Schedule time five to six days each week to walk precincts.

Have a nice handout designed and printed.

Knock on the doors of the highly likely voters in the most important precincts. Get signs placed in their yards.

If you’re not willing to commit to a walk program like this, then you should reconsider running for office.

10. The Candidates Stops Campaigning Before the Polls Close

Some candidates falsely believe the campaign is over long before the polls close on Election Day.

They frequently lose.

I know of a lady who thought she had won her State Assembly race a month before Election Day.

Rather than campaigning, she was at home “boning up on the issues.”

She came in third in that race, behind two other candidates who were still working.

Another time the leader of the California State Senate lost his seat because he thought his race was sowed up so he went to walk precincts in another district for another candidate.

Candidates often times tire out and stop campaigning the last few days of the Election.

That’s when they need to be making sure your supporters have voted by mail or know when and where to vote.

You should be actively working the undecided voters to come your way.

Some don’t even campaign on Election Day, then find themselves surprised when they lose by a handful of voters.

How to Avoid This:  Simple, you campaign until the polls close on Election Day.

A campaign I worked on in the March 2024 Primary had over 100 phone calls from voters on Election Day itself.

Some of the voters were calling from the polling place as they waited in line to cast their ballots to ask questions.

Until the polls closed the campaign responded to every call, text message, and Facebook inquiry.

If you’re in it to win it, that’s what you do.

This campaign did it and the candidate won an overwhelming landslide garnering 75% of the vote!

If you can’t or you’re unwilling to campaign until the votes stop being cast, then you should consider sitting the election out and waiting until you’re willing to make that type of a winning commitment to your campaign.

Candidate Take Aways

When the polls close at the end of Election Day, there will be more losers than winners.

There are simply too many candidates running for too few offices in most cases.

Many of those who don’t get elected will have fallen victim to one of the ten reasons listed here.

Many of them are preventable and you can overcome them.

Political campaigns are not brain surgery nor rocket science, but they do take discipline, focus, and a strong work ethic.

That combined with the essential ingredients of solid fundraising, the right campaign message, and knowing how to best spend your time and money, almost anyone can run a winning campaign and make a huge difference for their community.

If you want to  learn what it takes to organize, launch, and run a serious political campaign that can win an election, please check out the Path to Victory master class. Tap this link to enroll now and get instant access to training materials.