WASHINGTON — The phone lines in congressional offices have been ringing off the hook over the past few weeks and there have been overflowing town halls around the country. But does your lawmaker actually care what you think?
A report released by the Congressional Management Foundation Monday found that they do. And the constituents who go through the extra trouble of showing up in person or writing personal emails and letters have the best chance or persuading an undecided lawmaker.
“There is unfortunately a belief by Americans that Congress doesn’t care what they think,” Bradford Fitch, who is president and CEO of the Congressional Management Foundation, told USA TODAY. The Foundation helps train lawmakers and their staff on how to run a congressional office.
Fitch said that this report — made up of a series of surveys of congressional staff conducted between 2004 and 2016 — proves the opposite is true.
“Constituents are the most important factor especially when it comes to undecided lawmakers,” Fitch said. “Congress works a lot more like ‘School House Rock’ than ‘House of Cards.’”
In-person visits from constituents and representatives from local organizations were the most effective outreach methods, with 94% of congressional staff saying in-person visits had a lot or some influence on a lawmaker who was undecided on an issue.
But don’t fret if you don’t have the time to fly to D.C. or show up at a local office. Sending a personalized email or letter works well too. Ninety-two percent of congressional staff said individualized email messages had a lot or some influence on the lawmaker, 88% said the same for individualized letters.
A local editorial that referenced the issue and comments during a telephone town hall both had significant sway, 87% of aides said.
Eighty-four percent of those surveyed said phone calls could sway the lawmaker, but that’s almost 10% lower than an email.
Fitch said phone calls fall lower on the rating scale because there is such a wide range in the quality of phone calls. Some calls made organically “where you can hear emotion on the phone” can be effective. There are also groups that are paid based off the number of connections they make, not what happens after the call goes through. Those calls hold less influence.
All types of outreach were found effective by at least 8-out-of-10 staffers except for one: form email messages. The survey found that emails that aren’t personalized — the email that gets sent after you “click here to send an email to your congressman” — were far less effective than any other type of outreach. Just 56% of congressional staffers said form email messages were influential.
Fitch said even though mass email campaigns are easier, cheaper and measurable results show they are a little outdated.