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Citizen communications with Congress studied

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Almost half of Americans of voting age have contacted a member of Congress in the past five years, many using the Internet, according to the Congressional Management Foundation.

The majority, however, did not believe Congress was interested in what they had to say.

So an “ineffective circle of mistrust” has evolved as Congressional staffers question whether constituents are informed about the issues they are writing about, and doubt that mass e-mail campaigns include messages from real people.

The foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, recently released two documents, one that details how the Internet is changing citizen involvement, and the other making recommendations for improving the dialogue between citizens and members of Congress.

The foundation commissioned a polling firm to conduct a telephone survey of 1,000 adult Americans and an online survey from a panel of 9,500 people to learn about expectations and experience in interacting with members of Congress.

The research found that Internet users, while wanting to feel engaged, generally felt disconnected from Congress.

Those who contacted members of Congress said they had been motivated to do so because they cared about an issue, even if a request to make contact had been made by a third party.

The culmination of the foundation’s nine-year project on communicating with Congress will be a report, now available for public comment in the draft stage.

It says individual communication is more persuasive than “identical-form” communications from grassroots advocacy campaigns, and recommends that constituents be adequately prepared when making calls to congressional offices.

The report also recommends technological refinements to the way in which congressional offices receive and view messages from citizens.

“The new model would allow offices to manage the volume without losing the meaning of the campaign or the sense of involvement of the individual constituent behind each message,” the draft report says.

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