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Capitol Hill Experiencing Huge Increase in Constituent Mail

Report Documents How Congressional Offices Are Adapting to Manage Demand

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressional offices are receiving between 200 to 1,000 percent more constituent communications than they were ten years ago. Despite the increase, a survey of congressional staff indicates that 90 percent believe constituent communications remains a "high priority" for the office. But sizable percentages of staff report that their offices are shifting resources to manage the increased demand.

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CMF Report to Document Changes in Constituent Volume and Communications Practices on Capitol Hill

The Congressional Management Foundation (CMF) will release a new report on October 4 documenting how the volume of constituent communications has changed in the past decade, as well as congressional staff perceptions on how internal practices have changed in that time. CMF's How Citizen Advocacy Is Changing Mail Operations on Capitol Hill is based on a survey of 260 congressional staff on how email and the Internet are affecting office procedures. CMF researchers also collected mail volume data from ten congressional offices.

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Connecting the Offline and Online Worlds: Rep. Karen Bass Experiments with QR Codes

Technology can advance at a breakneck speed. It seems like new communications vehicles are created all the time and it can be significant challenge for congressional staff to help the Member manage their legislative and other representational duties and keep up with all of the latest trends. That's why I never cease to be amazed at how Members and staff are able to find the time to be creative and innovative. But, being afraid to experiment is a recipe for being left in the dust on Capitol Hill and Los Angeles Congresswoman Karen Bass and her staff have been experimenting with Quick Response or 'QR' Codes.

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Constituents Tell Rep. Forbes What They Think Through His “instaPoll”

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.”

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It’s Not How You Send It, It’s What’s Inside

When communicating with congressional offices, the most pressing question used to be: are email or postal messages more effective? While each has its advantages, congressional staff view them equally. The more important question is: are the messages personalized?

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It’s the Wild, Wild West... and There is No Law or Order

Since the release of our Recommendations for Improving the Democratic Dialogue in 2008, we've been working to bring about a dramatic change in the way communications are transmitted to and from congressional offices.

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Recommendations for Improving the Democratic Dialogue

Cover of Recommendations ReportIn 2008, after nearly 10 years of research, outreach, and study of the communications between citizens and Congress, CMF released recommendations for all stakeholders and suggested improvements to the structure and processes for managing congressional communications.

CWC_RecommendationsReport.pdf 3.50 Mb

Highlights include:

  • Discussion of the challenges citizens, Members of Congress, and grassroots advocates face which threaten the effective exchange of ideas;
  • Details about the processes used to facilitate electronic communications between citizens and their representatives in Congress;
  • Recommendations to each stakeholder group – including citizens, grassroots advocates, Congress, and the vendors that provide services to each group – for changing their practices to help improve the democratic dialogue;
  • Presentation of a new model for these communications which would ease administrative burden, improve communication, and help facilitate more meaningful dialogue about public policy.
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How The Internet Has Changed Citizen Engagement

Cover of How the Internet Has Changed Citizen Engagement ReportIn 2008, to understand how citizens are communicating with their Members of Congress and what motivates them to do so, CMF commissioned a nationwide survey of citizens to address their methods, reasons, and expectations with regard to their communications with Capitol Hill. The resulting report discusses the results of this research with over 10,000 citizens.

CWC_CitizenEngagement.pdf 2.52 Mb

Key findings:

  • Almost half of adult Americans contacted Congress in the last five years to support, oppose or learn more about issues of interest to them.
  • The majority of people surveyed do not believe Congress is interested in what they have to say, but they want Members' to keep them informed of their views and activities and of the policy issues being debated in Washington.
  • Those who had contacted Congress tended to be more politically active in other ways than those who had not.
  • The Internet has become the primary source for learning about and communicating with Congress.
  • A majority of people who contacted Congress had been asked to do so by a third party - primarily through interest groups - and they place a high value on the role of advocacy campaigns in our democracy.
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How Capitol Hill Is Coping With the Surge in Citizen Advocacy

Cover of How Capitol Hill is Coping with the Surge in Citizen Advocacy Report In 2005, CMF surveyed and interviewed more than 300 House and Senate staffers on their opinions and practices related to constituent communications. This report explores the surge in communications to congressional offices, how offices are reacting to the increased workload and how they view constituent communications practices. Whether you are a congressional staffer or a citizen or grassroots organization, this report is an essential read.

CWC_CapitolHillCoping.pdf 754 Kb

Key findings:

  • Congress received four times more communications in 2004 than 1995—all of the increase from Internet-based communications. Congress received 200,388,993 communications in 2004: the House received 10,400,000 communications by post and 99,053,399 via the Internet; the Senate received 7,935,594 by post and 83,000,000 via the Internet. During this decade, the staffing levels of Members’ personal offices have not changed.
  • Congressional offices are devoting more resources to managing the growing volume of constituent communications. Of managers surveyed, 73% say their offices spend more time on constituent communications than two years ago. Half of House and Senate senior managers surveyed also report their offices have reallocated resources to responding to communications over the last two years. However, only 17% of House offices and 38% of Senate offices answer all incoming e-mail with e-mail. The large majority of offices respond to some or all of their e-mail with postal letters.
  • The Internet is generally having a positive effect on the discourse between citizens and Congress. A large majority of congressional staff surveyed, 79%, believe the Internet has made it easier for citizens to become involved in public policy; 55% believe it has increased public understanding of what goes on in Washington; and a plurality of 48% believe it has made Members more responsive to their constituents.
  • Many congressional staff doubt the legitimacy of identical form communications, and want to know whether communications are sent with constituents’ knowledge and consent. Half of congressional staff surveyed believe identical form communications are not sent with constituents’ knowledge or consent. Another 25% are unsure about the legitimacy of these communications. Additionally, 89% would like the ability to differentiate list-generated campaigns from those sent through direct constituent action.
  • Personalized or individualized messages to Congress have more influence on Members’ decision-making process than do identical form messages. Only 3% of staff surveyed say identical form postal mail would have “a lot” of influence on their Member of Congress if he/she had not reached a decision. In contrast, 44% report individualized postal letters would have “a lot” of influence.
  • People who engage in political activities online or who write to their elected officials are very likely to be active members of their communities. Citizens who write or call their elected officials are about six times more likely than the general public to belong to a group trying to influence public policy or to attend a political rally, speech or protest; three times more likely to write an article for a magazine or newspaper; and four times more likely to work for a political party. Consequently, constituents who write Congress tend to be politically active and have disproportionate political influence in their communities.
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Purchasing CMF Publications

Please contact us through our Web form or via telephone at 202-546-0100.

Congressional offices will receive an invoice via email and with their order. District/state offices will incur shipping fees, unless copies are hand-delivered to DC office.

Non-congressional offices must pay in advance before publications will be shipped. Please contact a CMF staff member to discuss total charges for non-congressional orders. CMF currently accepts payments by cash (in person only), check, or money order for non-congressional orders. We apologize that payments via credit or debit cards cannot be accepted.

 

ABOUT CMF

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.

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