New Study On Congressional Staffers' Attitudes Towards Citizen Advocacy

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Gregory Heller

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February 3, 2011

New Study On Congressional Staffers' Attitudes Towards Citizen Advocacy

An interesting study came out last week reporting on congressional staffers' attitudes towards Citizen Advocacy.  For the report by The Partnership For A More Perfect Union, the organization surveyed 260 congressional staff on their opinions towards communication with constituents via both electronic and traditional mediums. I won't rewrite the great summary of findings on the Partnership's website, but I will draw some additional connections and insights from theirs, and other recent work on the subject.

In December, The Pew Internet and American Life Project released a study about Americans and Twitter. The Atlantic gleaned five interesting facts from Pew's Twitter report, I will share just one:

  • Just 6% of all Adult Americans use Twitter (18 million people), or 8% of all (American, adult) internet users. 
The Partnership's study revealed that:
  • 51% of senior managers and communications staffers responded that Twitter is either Very Important (12%) or Somewhat important (39%) for  communicating the Member/Senator's views and activities to constituents. Which is more than thought the same of an MOC or Senator's own Blog (10% Very, 29% Somewhat Important). Local media came out on top with 100% of respondents identifying it as Very or Somewhat important (80% Very, 20% Somewhat).
  • 42% of senior managers and communications staffers responded that Twitter is either Very Important (4%) or Somewhat important (38%) for understanding constituent's views.
  • 42% of senior managers and mail staffers responded that comments on social media sites had a lot of positive influence or some influence (1% a lot, 41% some) on swaying an undecided Member/Senator's decision on an issue. Compare that with a visit to a Washington office (97%) or a district/state office (94%), or letters to the editor (80%)
Putting these two separate findings together, it is rather alarming to me that congressional staffers are putting so much stock in Twitter, where only a scant 6% of Adult Americans are spending any time. How much time, and whether they are even following Senators and members of congress is separate question. The report is pretty clear that if you really want to influence your Senator or Member of Congress, paying them a visit is the best way to do it. Second best is a personalized communication by email or snail mail -- not form letters generated by a concerted online advocacy campaign, after that, phone calls are your best bet. Lessons learned: advocacy organizations should ditch the form email, and focus on motivating and enabling supporters to write personal letters by mail, or email, or make phone calls. Of course, the most influential mechanism is a visit to the Member/Senator's office.

All of this echo's Jake Brewer's "Tragedy of Political Advocacy" piece in the Huffington Post last fall, which is definitely worth a read if you are in the business of influencing congress.

So how will this information change the way your organization engages in legislative advocacy?

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