Members of Congress generally have no problem getting their constituents to tell them what they think. Shadow a Representative or Senator for a day and you’ll quickly discover that in nearly every meeting someone is recommending— or in some cases, demanding—a particular course of action.
Every Member of Congress makes decisions in a different way, though. And every Member pulls in information about how to vote from many different sources. They may have a deep knowledge of a particular issue because of their profession before they came to Congress. They receive phone calls, emails, and postal letters from constituents. They also hear from lobbyists, industry professionals, their congressional colleagues, their party leadership, and their staff. Ultimately, though, it is the Member that must vote “aye” or “nay.”
One way Members have gauged public opinion in their states and districts is through polling their constituents about the issues that are important to them. Members have long included short polling questions in their regular newsletters or on their websites, and some even pose questions on Facebook or Twitter.
Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA), however, is taking a slightly different approach. Rather than tacking on a polling question to a much larger email newsletter—almost as an afterthought—he created a cleverly branded regular poll of his constituents called the “instaPoll.”
What’s interesting about this isn’t the fact that they’re asking constituents what they think, but that they have created a vehicle specifically for asking constituents to weigh in. Joe Hack, the Congressman’s Press Secretary, told me that the instaPoll gives the office “a quick way to get a sense of what [their] constituents think on any given day.”
Each week the office strategizes about the topic for that week’s question based on the issues that are currently before Congress or are the hot issues in the Congressman’s district. The question is then sent to individuals that have communicated with the office in some way and to individuals that have opted into receiving communications from the Congressman.
Constituents can submit their response, share the poll through email, Facebook and Twitter, and view the results from the previous week’s poll.
The office reports that they have received “thousands” of constituent responses to individual poll questions depending on the topic, and it’s a great way for a Member to show that they are listening. Hack said, “While these polls are not scientific, the instaPoll is a great tool for Congressman Forbes to engage his constituents on the issue of the day and get a general idea of where they stand.”
Is your congressional office doing anything creative or innovative with your online communications? If so, let us know!