Political Machine 2020 #3: A Walk-through

Published on Tuesday, March 3, 2020 By Brad Wardell In TPM Journals

Today let's do a quick walk-through of The Political Machine 2020.  This will include what's new from previous editions as well as a discussion of the underlying simulation.

Creating a candidate

When creating a candidate you have a finite # of points to use to figure out what your candidate's strengths are.

  • Stamina: How many moves you get per turn
  • Intelligence: Enhances how well you do on interviews
  • Charisma: Affects how well your speeches and ads do
  • Media bias: Affects how many ideology points you get from town halls
  • Minority appeal: Gives you enthusiasm points in states based on their minority population
  • Experience: Determines how expensive operatives are
  • Starting Money: Self explanatory.

The most obvious new feature in The Political Machine 2020 are the ideology trees.  Each candidate can truly play differently from another based on what their ideology. 

For this game, I'm going to choose Joe Biden's ideology.

There are 21 weeks (turns) to build your campaign.  This means every single move you make matters.   At the start, the candidates tend to be pretty close to tied.

But a few things to note:

  1. The cost of political operatives is based on supply and demand. They cost more early on in the game and slowly decrease in cost but will go up in cost as they are hired.
  2. Campaign HQs build enthusiasm in states. I recommend building them in friendly states to help nail them down. They also generate money for your campaign.
  3. Advertisements multiply your perceived position on a given issue. It is better to use an ad to magnify an issue you are already strong on than to use it on an issue you’ve barely spoken on.

When you see a town hall show up, you should absolutely go to it as soon as you can to maximize the ideology points you get.  The # of points you get is based on how tired your candidate is and the media bias.

Once you have collected some points, you can buy an ideology.  There is a lot of subtle strategy involved in the choice.  Enthusiasm is great as it will get people out to vote.  But they won't necessarily vote for you if they like the other candidate's position on the issues.

Some issues are bland. Others are controversial.

"Social justice" is a great issue if you're running as a Democrat but doesn't really get people that enthused due to it being so vague.   By contrast, an Assault Weapons ban will fire up voters on both sides and is specific enough to make it a major issue in the campaign.

My strategy tends to revolve around Reducing Wealth Inequality.  That is because it polls pretty well across party lines (relative to other partisan issues).  However, be careful, there is a reason why most politicians don't get too specific.  Unlocking fighting Wealth Inequality unlocks Taxing the Rich and Universal Healthcare.  Look carefully at polling on different issues in battleground states before picking an issue you feel passionate about.  It's not about winning California (or Texas if you're a Republican).  It's about winning those battleground states.


As Mayor Bloomberg is learning, ads on their own aren't enough.  Ads magnify your existing support. They can't create it.

In The Political Machine, an ad will affect the state it's in plus adjacent states. However, they multiply your perceived position on an issue.  In this case, I've made Reducing Wealth Inequality a big focus of my campaign.  So taking an ad out on this will greatly increase my perceived position on that issue because I already have a lot of points into that issue.

By contrast, it would be dumb to spend it on stopping Coronavirus (which is spelled correctly in the final version) because I haven't spent time on it.

So here I already have a strong position on this issue. So taking an ad out on it will help cement my ownership on this issue.

Beware of pandering

Pander all you want but remember, your speech to make people happy in one state might hurt you elsewhere.

That said. I support farm subsidies..

Your VP choice

In The Political Machine 2020, the AI will take care of your running mate for you.  They will go around and campaign on the issues they have in common with you.  It also means you should probably take a little care on who you pick.

Hit them in their own back yard

The data shows that there are hidden toss-up states.  Or more to the point, there are states that become toss-up states if you put effort into them and your opponent ignores them (see Wisconsin 2016).  Because every turn matters, you can force your opponent to spend precious time late game having to win over states that they should have captured early on.


Operatives do the dirty work in the campaign.   They are very expensive but get cheaper over time.  The difficulty level affects how many operatives the AI will be able to afford (so don't get too frustrated if you're losing on higher difficulties -- start on the easy levels).

Now in this game, as we are on the last turn you can see a lot of operative son the map.  I messed with Trump and forced him to invest in Alaska. He's doing the same in New Jersey.  Luckily, my running mate, Catherine Cortez Masto, is there to help.

Election Day

It was a narrow victory and I lost the popular vote but Joe Candidate was victorious.  Now I can look at the exit polls.

Focusing on good jobs and addressing climate change were major parts of my campaign.  But I probably would have won with a wider margin if I had focused on addressing wealth inequality as an issue.

Trump made some mistakes that cost him here.  In this particular game, he went for deporting illegal aliens which, despite what many online argue, doesn't seem to have as much support as many people believe (at least as of March 2020, we update the polling data a few times during an election cycle).

Another issue that polls well but isn't likely to be used in this cycle is returning civility to politics (though here, because it's a game, 100% of those voters who care about that went for Joe Candidate).  

The random event that occurred in my game (the stock market crashed) also was a big help.

Now, this map isn't intended to be accurate to how the actual election would turn out.  We walk a fine line between pure simulator and strategy game.  For example, the AI tried (and failed) to troll me in New York, New Jersey and Illinois.  That was foolish but I've seen cases where it forces the player to spend precious time in the states it targets.

By contrast, my counter of Oklahoma and Iowa paid off.  Alaska, being my home state in this game, went my way as well (just barely).

Every game is different

Re-designing the game around the new ideology tree mechanic ensures every game plays differently.  Pick your issues carefully and pay attention to the winning the battleground states and you should find great success in your political campaigns.