“Citizen-Centric Advocacy: The Untapped Power of Constituent Engagement,” reveals the degree of influence that citizens have on congressional decision-making. The report is the most comprehensive research ever published on citizen engagement with Congress.
The research answers critical questions for citizen-advocates and lobbyists, including the following:
How influential are constituent meetings compared to lobbyist meetings?
What is the most effective way to communicate with a lawmaker (letter, email, phone call)?
Which methods/strategies are most successful for building long-term relationships with Congress?
The findings are based on nine surveys of congressional staff, comprising nearly 1,200 responses provided to CMF from 2004-2015. The research also includes a new case study with food bank representatives (part of the Feeding America network) and how they utilized advanced citizen-advocacy techniques to build relationships with their legislators.
This research is part of CMF’s Partnership for a More Perfect Union, a program to help citizens have better communications, understanding, and relationships with Members of Congress. If your organization is a member of the Partnership, please click here to log in and download the report.
- Direct constituent interactions have more influence on lawmakers’ decisions than other advocacy strategies. In three surveys of congressional staff over a 10-year span, 99% (2004), 97% (2010), and 94% (2015) said that “in-person visits from constituents” would have “some” or “a lot” of influence on an undecided lawmaker.
- Congress places a high value on groups and citizens who have built relationships with the legislator and staff. When asked what advocacy groups should do more of to build relationships with the office, 79% of staff surveyed said “meet or get to know the Legislative Assistant with jurisdiction over their issue area” and 62% said “meet or get to know the District/State Director.”
- Citizen advocates are more influential and contribute to better public policy when they provide personalized and local information to Congress. 9 out of 10 (91%) congressional staffers surveyed said it would be helpful to have “information about the impact the bill/issue would have on the district or state.” However, only 9% report they receive that information frequently. Similarly, 79% said a personal story from a constituent related to the bill or issue would be helpful, but only 18% report they receive it frequently.
- Citizens have significant potential to enhance their advocacy skills and influence Congress. After concluding 40 hours of CMF/Feeding America advanced advocacy training conducted over four months, citizen-advocates from local food banks met their Members and congressional staff. Whereas 12% of congressional staff report that the typical constituent they meet with is “very prepared,” 97% of the congressional staff who met advanced advocacy trainees agreed that these citizen-advocates were “very prepared” for their meetings.
This piece was originally published in May, 2017 on the Congressional Management Foundation’s Communicating with Congress project as Report – Citizen-Centric Advocacy: The Untapped Power of Constituent Engagement.
For more information on Communicating with Congress project or the resources we provide to citizens, visit our Citizen Engagement page. For more information on the resources and services we provide to congressional offices, visit our Congressional Operations page. The report was sponsored by the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) and Broadnet.