Today, CMF and the Partnership released a new survey of congressional staff which reveals that they believe constituents have far more influence on undecided lawmakers than lobbyists. If you listen to the media, the pundits, or the general public, however, you might think lobbyists are at the top of the heap. But our research shows this is not the case.
When asked about various groups and strategies that might influence their Member of Congress, 46% of congressional staff surveyed said that 'in-person constituent visits' would have 'a lot' of influence, compared to 8% which said the same of a 'lobbyist visit.'
In spite of the fact that many citizens feel like they have lost their place at the table, Congress really is trying to listen to the views of constituents.
Here's where skeptics might insert something like, 'Well, of course they'd say that.' The thing is, however, our survey was an anonymous survey of staff. It was conducted in such a way as to divorce the individual staffer's identity and that of their boss from their responses to the survey questions. Their answers to the survey could not be tied back to their Member of Congress, which removed any incentive they might have to cast their Member in a positive light.
This isn't to bash the professional lobbyists, however. Members of Congress rely on many factors to help them make their decisions: the e-mails, postal letters, and telephone calls from constituents; their own knowledge of the issue; a spirited debate in committee with someone on the other side of the issue; the urging of their party leadership; and even issue experts (lobbyists) on both sides of the issue.
This is great news for citizens! Members are listening to their constituents first; an in-person visit from a constituent is still the best way to influence a Member of Congress that is on the fence and has not already made up his or her mind.
If you've ever wanted to know what happens behind the curtain in congressional offices, you can view the full report, Communicating with Congress: Perceptions of Citizen Advocacy on Capitol Hill (PDF) (1.2 MB).