Survey Finds Internet Increased Accountability in Congress
WASHINGTON, D.C. – A new survey of congressional staff says they believe constituents have far more influence on undecided lawmakers than lobbyists. When asked about various groups and strategies that influence their Member of Congress, 46% said that “in-person constituent visits” would have “a lot” of influence, compared to 8% which said the same of a “lobbyist visit.” Staff also believe the Internet has increased the accountability of Members of Congress to constituents. A majority (57%) believe the Internet has made Members more accountable, and 87% believe it has made it “easier for constituents to become involved in the public policy process.”
The survey was conducted by the Congressional Management Foundation (CMF), a nonpartisan nonprofit organization which works to improve congressional operations through research, publications, and training. The survey was the basis of a report released today by CMF, “Communicating with Congress: Perceptions of Citizen Advocacy on Capitol Hill.” The report is a part of CMF’s new initiative to improve the relationship and communications between citizens and Congress, the Partnership for a More Perfect Union.
“While many Americans might feel that their voice is not heard in Washington, this research shows that Congress is trying to listen,” said Bradford Fitch, President and CEO of CMF. “Congressional staff clearly believe that getting information on policy impacts directly from citizens is helpful and influential to the decision-making process on Capitol Hill,” he said.
CMF Researchers surveyed 260 staffers, a majority (53%) in management positions, from October 12-December 13, 2010. The survey also was representative of the House and Senate, both by chamber and party breakdown at the time.
In addition, the report stated:
- Questions at town hall meetings (87%) and letters to the editor (80%) have “some” or “a lot” of influence.
- Nearly identical percentages of staffers said individualized postal mail (90%) and email (88%) would influence an undecided Member of Congress.
- Nearly all staff (90%) agreed – and more than 60% strongly agreed – that responding to constituent communications is a high priority in their offices. But, more than half of the staffers surveyed (53%) agreed that most advocacy campaigns of identical form messages are sent without constituents’ knowledge or approval.
The study also is the first to assess attitudes and practices in Congress regarding the use of social media as a communications tool between citizens and Congress. The survey found nearly two-thirds of staff (64%) think Facebook is an important way to understand constituents’ views and nearly three-quarters (74%) think it is important for communicating their Member’s views.
“Social media is now part of our democratic dialogue,” said Tim Hysom, the Director of CMF’s Partnership for a More Perfect Union. “With both citizens and Congress using social media to learn and inform, we will have a more robust national conversation on the issues our democratic institutions must wrestle with,” he said.
The research is the latest result of CMF’s eight-year Communicating with Congress Project. The project has produced four reports, including a previous survey of congressional staff and a survey of citizens regarding their attitudes on communicating with Members of Congress.
CMF is also working with congressional institutional offices, advocacy groups, congressional software vendors, and advocacy group software vendors to develop a common, open source technological standard for sending constituent communications to Capitol Hill. Currently, no uniform standard exists, creating both administrative problems for congressional offices and obstacles for citizens who participate in advocacy campaigns.