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The Four Types of People in Politics

types of peopleSo often we can get frustrated by people in politics who do the wrong things (or even stupid things) unexpectedly. But usually that is because we let ourselves expect too much of people without giving much thought to “why” they may do the things that they do.

The key is to know the types of people in politics and what motivates them.  Why did they get involved in politics to begin with? What do they want? What do they care about? Figure that out and you can go a long way towards predicting “what” they will do in most any situation.

Here’s a breakdown of the usual suspects:


A lot of people who get involved in politics do it for the money. Whether it’s the elected official who hopes to cash in by working as a lobbyist one day, or the political hack who just goes to work for the highest bidder. This group grows larger as government gets bigger because the bigger government gets, the higher the financial stakes to businesses who need “protection” or who are “rent seeking”. The higher the stakes, the more numerous the pols who are all too willing to help them out – for a price (whether now or later).

This makes up an even bigger percentage of political professionals and consultants who are often less concerned about issues and principles and more about chasing the candidates (or businesses) who pay the most. And when money is the biggest principle in your life, it makes you very predictable.


This is the group that cares more about power – not quite as much as what it stands for or is used for, but just so long as they are the ones who get to use it. They always want to be “in charge” and driving the agenda, regardless of what the agenda is. They spend most of their time chasing whatever brings them the most power and influence over the political process, which tells you all that you usually need to know about what they will do in any given situation.


These people are related to the “power” group, but deserve their own category. They like to be recognized and they’re more interested in the ego stroking or attention that comes with being in the political limelight. This is the group that tends to get overly represented in sex scandals, (think interns, campaign staffers or political groupies…yes, they actually exist!).

It’s been said that politics is like show-business for ugly people, which makes Washington, DC the political version of Hollywood. And it explains much of the merger of news/entertainment and politics – celebrities who want to act like pols, and pols who want to be celebrities. Want to know what they’ll do in any situation? Figure out what will give them the most attention.


The last group is comprised of folks who care about issues. Whether liberal or conservative, they’ve got a burr in their britches about something, either a specific issue, group of issues or an overall philosophy. Most everything they do is geared towards pushing that agenda. They’re in it to make a difference.

Ideologues can be the most tenacious of the groups because they usually care about something they see as being larger than themselves, which also can make them harder to deal with and make them less likely to compromise. Sometimes they can be so caught up in the agenda that they lose sight of the wisdom of taking half a loaf today in order to be in a better position to win another battle tomorrow. It’s the flip-side of passion and commitment.

Hopefully you fit into this last category and are involved because you want to make a difference. Be passionate. Just make sure not to let it blind you to using good strategy.


Keep these types in mind when it comes to your political activism or lobbying campaigns. It can help you understand other activists, political professionals and elected officials.

Do the things that they usually do tend to bring them more money, power or attention? Or are they always pursuing an agenda?

Know that and they’re less likely to surprise you in the future.