In-person meetings on Capitol Hill used to be the norm. Members of Congress and their staff would spend much of their days meeting with constituents, lobbyists, and other concerned citizens. When back in their districts, members would regularly host in-person townhalls, site visits, coffee hours, and other similar events to hear from their constituents. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, members of Congress are taking these meetings virtual. These days, House members can most often be found on Microsoft Teams and U.S. Senators are using Cisco Webex.
While technology has allowed members of Congress to continue to hear from their constituents in the age of the pandemic, there are certainly some drawbacks. These virtual meetings can be time-consuming and, as this public health crisis continues, concerned voices are competing for legislators’ attention. This can create challenges for the average advocacy campaign, making it essential to develop a nuanced and personalized, grassroots approach to take advantage of Congress’ remote capabilities.
A new survey from the Congressional Management Foundation (CMF) reviews how members of Congress and their staff are responding to new COVID-19 work circumstances. According to the report, most congressional offices are building on prior technology and remote communication features and are seeing success in the process. Further, most offices believe these communication methods will stick around even after office shutdowns are lifted. Key findings from the report include the following:
- 65 percent of congressional offices report conducting “significantly more” video conferences with constituents, and 47 percent report “significantly more” telephone-town hall meetings.
- Nearly two-thirds of congressional offices report receiving more communications from constituents than before COVID-19 hit.
- Staffers who typically specialize in legislation are assisting with constituent correspondence. Now, when a constituent calls a congressional office, their call may be routed to the mobile phone of whichever staffer picks up first.
- In total, 63 percent of staffers indicate that personalized/individual correspondence from constituents has become “more” or “significantly more” important.
- In total, 65 percent of staffers report phone calls from constituents have also become more or significantly more important to understanding constituents’ views and opinions.
- 41 percent, 12 percent, and 31 percent of congressional staffers report Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter – respectively – have become more important during the pandemic for understanding constituents’ opinions. In total, Facebook has seen the largest uptick with 57 percent of staffers reporting their member has “increased” or “significantly increased” their Facebook usage – often because of Facebook Live used during tele-town halls.
- 60 percent of offices plan to continue online town halls.
- 77 percent of congressional staffers expect their offices to increase the time and resources they devote to remote engagement with individual constituents.
- Up to 67 percent of staffers expect to decrease the resources allotted for in-person meetings in Washington, D.C., and up to 53 percent think they will provide less time and funding for in-person meetings in their members’ districts.
For many who are leading issue campaigns, this is unfamiliar territory. The grassroots team at Forbes Tate Partners (FTP) has seen trends emerge surrounding congressional communication before, and knows it is possible to adapt. Today, the key is figuring out how to break through, so legislators hear your message. Members of Congress are adjusting to the age of COVID-19 just like everyone else. And, while Congress will continue to face many critical decisions to address the ongoing impact of the pandemic, a precise and personalized grassroots campaign can be one of the best ways to make sure constituent voices reach members of Congress.
If you would like to learn more about how FTP can best tailor an effective campaign for your issue, please contact Lauren Crawford Shaver.
Forbes Tate Partners is a bipartisan, integrated full-service public affairs consultancy specializing in government relations, traditional and digital communications, grassroots advocacy and third-party coordination, coalition management, and business development. FTP can help you develop and deliver winning strategies to communicate and engage your key audiences.