August 23, 2011

August 23, 2011
Communication with Congress Makes a Difference

Welcome to another day in my life. Today is Tuesday and I hope your week is off to a safe and great start. Dab the AIDS Bear and I are still laying low for a few more days before our next adventure.

From reading this blog, you see where we often ask you to contact your elected officials. But did you know it really makes a difference?

Some of our advocates out there may question how much influence their phone calls, e-mails, letters, or office visits may have on the process of passing bills and creating policy. The recent debate on raising the debt ceiling should shed some light on the impact we can have. If you were following the debt ceiling discussion closely, you may have noted that very conservative Republican advocates (represented by a minority of House Republicans) were the ones whose voices were actually serving to dictate the direction and tone of negotiations. No matter how you feel about their politics, everyone who watched the news could see that their message was loud and their message was clear.

For those of you who prefer statistical evidence that communication with Congress makes a difference, a report published by the Congressional Management Foundation (CMF) offers some proof. Two-hundred and sixty Congressional staffers took a survey regarding their opinions and practices related to constituent communications, including social media. The study shows that:

Citizens Have More Power Than They Realize - Most of the staff surveyed said constituent visits to the Washington office (97%) and to the district/state office (94%) have 'some' or 'a lot' of influence on an undecided Member, more than any other influence group or strategy. When asked about strategies directed to their offices back home, staffers said questions at town hall meetings (87%) and letters to the editor (80%) have 'some' or 'a lot' of influence.

It's Not the Delivery Method - It's the Content. There is virtually no distinction by the congressional staff we surveyed between email and postal mail. They view them as equally influential to an undecided Member. Nearly identical percentages of staffers said postal mail (90%) and email (88%) would influence an undecided Member of Congress.

Grassroots Advocacy Campaigns - Staff are Conflicted. The congressional staff CMF surveyed have conflicting views and attitudes about the value of grassroots advocacy campaigns. More than one-third of congressional staff (35%) agreed that advocacy campaigns are good for democracy (25% disagreed). Most 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.

Social Media Used to Listen and Communicate - Congressional offices are integrating social media tools into their operations, both to gain an understanding of constituents' opinions and to communicate information about the Member's views. Nearly two-thirds of staff surveyed (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.

So now you know why we ask to you get involved and use your voice. Thanks for helping people with HIV and AIDS.

Until we meet again; here's wishing you health, hope, happiness and just enough.

big bear hug,

Daddy Dab