Building Trust & Effectiveness in Congress
FOLLOW US:!/congressfdn

A #Townhall for a New Age

Yesterday, President Obama hosted the first ever Twitter town hall from the East Room of the White House, answering questions posed to him by citizens, Members of Congress, and reporters. (In the audience was Congressional Management Foundation President and CEO, Bradford Fitch, who tweeted prolifically.) In all, there were over 169,395 #AskObama Tweets. The most popular topics were jobs (23%), the budget (18%), taxes (18%), and education (11%) (Numbers via @twitterglobalpr; for more analysis see this post at OhMyGov!). This follows similar efforts by Speaker Boehner, House Democrats, and others to use new online tools and venues to connect elected officials with the people they represent.

When used correctly, online communications can be remarkably effective in fostering increased citizen engagement with politics and policy. Through our own research, we have found that online town hall meetings have the potential to be a powerful tool for strengthening the relationship between Members and their constituents.

Between 2006 and 2008, in collaboration with research partners from four universities, we facilitated a series of online meetings between Members and a group of their constituents, and polled the participants at several points before and after the events. Thanks to the extraordinary cooperation of 21 Members of Congress and approximately 1,000 constituents, we were able to shed light on the effects and benefits of engaging citizens in online town halls.

Some of the highlights:

  • Trust in the Member of Congress increased 14%.
  • Participants were more likely than non-participants to describe the Member of Congress as "accessible," "fair," and "compassionate."
  • When asked whether the participants trusted how the Member of Congress handled the issue discussed ("immigration," not exactly a softball topic), 58% "approved" after the session, compared to 20% before the session.
  • These sessions were more likely than traditional venues to attract people from demographics not traditionally engaged in politics and people frustrated with the political system.
  • 95% of participants agreed that such sessions are "very valuable to our democracy" and that they would be interested in doing similar online sessions for other issues.
  • Participation in the town hall increased citizen engagement in politics. Not only were they more likely to vote and follow elections in the news, they were more likely to try and persuade others to vote.

For more on the study and its findings, see our report: Online Town Hall Meetings: Exploring Democracy in the 21st Century.



Inside of Capitol Dome

CMF is a 501(c)(3) nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to helping Congress and its Members meet the evolving needs and expectations of an engaged and informed 21st century citizenry.

Our work focuses on improving congressional operations and enhancing citizen engagement through research, publications, training, and management services.

Read more about CMF


thumbnail image of communicating with congress

Communicating with Congress The Internet forever changed how citizens and Congress interacts. The goal of this project is to facilitate a more meaningful democratic dialogue.


thumbnail image of gold mouse awards icon

Gold Mouse Project
Congress should effectively communicate with and serve citizens online. CMF assesses congressional websites to identify best and innovative practices that can be more widely adopted by the House and Senate.


thumbnail image of door to U.S. Capitol flanked by columns

Inside the Hill
Produced by Founding Partner Fleishman-Hillard, this video series allows you to hear directly from Members and staff on how technology is changing the way Congress works.


thumbnail image of the Capitol rotunda

Life in Congress
This novel research project by CMF and the Society for Human Resource Management has two goals: identify the factors that motivate congressional staff and shed some light on Congress as a workplace.


thumbnail image of a podium with microphone

21st Century Town Hall Meetings CMF seeks to continue our innovative work in this area by conducting comparative research on in-person town halls, online town halls, and telephone town halls.