ICYMI: Congressional Management Foundation: “The Untapped Power of Constituent Engagement”
Grassroots advocacy is not new. It’s been an important mechanism for citizens to voice their concerns to, or support of, every level of government for decades.
But the recent rise of grassroots advocacy – from Former President Obama’s unprecedented grassroots army to the rise of the tea party to the recent activity related to the Administration’s cabinet appointees – has changed the faces and the efficacy of such efforts.
With the recent protests and town hall meetings across the country, and the significant uptick in traffic on the U.S. Capitol phone lines, it certainly feels as if grassroots engagement is nearing historic levels.
That’s exactly what makes the Congressional Management Foundation’s recent report, “Citizen-Centric Advocacy: The Untapped Power of Constituent Engagement” extremely timely.
This report, based on nine surveys of congressional staff from 2004 to July 2016, as well as additional qualitative research, found that personalized, direct contact from constituents has more influence on policymakers’ decisions than other grassroots tactics. In fact, when congressional staff were asked what advocacy factors influence an “undecided” lawmaker, they found the following:
- 94 percent said “in-person issue visits from constituents” would have some or a lot of influence and
- 92 percent said “individualized email messages” from constituents would have a similar impact.
The report also revealed that congressional offices value information that comes from individuals or organizations that they have a pre-existing relationship with, underscoring the need to have established, ongoing relationships with staff and Members alike. Put another way, outreach from constituents should be both personalized and sustained in order to foster a prolonged dialogue and cultivate a greater likelihood of success.
Finally, the study highlighted the need for constituents to provide local information about the potential impacts of proposed legislation on the district or state. Surprisingly, while nearly 91 percent of the congressional staffers said this would be important, only nine percent had received this information in the past.
While this study focused on Congress, the trends are likely applicable in state legislatures as well, where there is a high value placed on personal contact from constituents.
As you look to create a pathway to achieve legislative success for your issues in Congress – especially in a year packed with key decisions on appointments, tax reform, infrastructure, and trade – grassroots advocacy should absolutely be included in the strategy to affect real change.
After all, if there is one thing that this study confirms for all of us, it’s that local impact does matter – and influences the outcomes of key debates.
Meghan DiMuzio is Senior Director of Forbes Tate Partners Grassroots.