The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

How many workers staff the political machines that bombard you?

The number of employees working for political organizations varies dramatically by year and month, according to BLS data. Here, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) takes over a campaign phone call made by Gladys Hoskins, a campaign worker from Upper Marlboro, to personally ask a grandmother to vote for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Anthony G. Brown. (Jenna Johnson/The Washington Post)

The near-constant bombardment of ads, e-mails and campaign events in the run-up to any given election might lead you to believe that political organizations are part of a massive industry that employs armies of workers.

But the field, which includes political parties, political action committees, campaigns, and clubs, is relatively small, averaging 8,900 employees nationwide between 2001 and 2013, according to a recent article from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Granted, the average is skewed downward because many jobs in the industry come and go with elections, but the numbers are relatively low even during the busiest times in the cycle.

According to BLS data, employment with political organizations reached its recent peak in October 2012, with 19,073 individuals working in the industry at that time. Four months later, the number had plummeted to 6,187 employees, representing a 68 percent decrease.

The graphics below help illustrate how the trends work. Green represents the high end of employment, while red represents the low end.

You’ll notice that most states showed up in shades of green in October 2012, meaning they had relatively high numbers of employees working with political organizations. That was just before the presidential and congressional elections that year, when political machines are most active.

One month after the 2012 election, the numbers had dropped dramatically. You’ll notice above that most states showed up in shades of red in December.

The BLS based its findings on the agency’s Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages. Click here for an interactive graphic showing the numbers from February 1990 through December 2013.