Believe it or not, one of the biggest influencers of congressional decisions is still constituent input. In a poll of congressional staff by the Congressional Management Foundation, among the top five influencers of an undecided legislative vote were letters, e-mails, and phone calls.
The simple fact is that legislators care what their constituents think, because they’re the ones who vote them in and out of office. While a letter might not sway every vote, legislators and their staff use these types of communications to measure how their community cares about specific issues.
For advocates, communicating with a legislator can help record your position, provide a quick insight into an issue, and help guide your representative to support your cause.
Writing Letters and E-Mails
Letters and e-mails are the most basic way a legislative office is able to record constituent opinions. Each office may receive tens to hundreds of e-mails and letters each day, so make sure your letter stands out by following some simple rules:
- Be clear and direct - Highlight exactly what you want the legislator to do - support or oppose a specific issue or piece of legislation - and give clear reasoning or facts why.
- Show you are a constituent - Offices care most when they know the message comes from a constituent, if you are a constituent, state that in your message.
- Focus on key points - If you are a constituent, and especially if you’re nto a constituent, highlight the key talking points or facts that help support your discussion.
- Keep it short - Most likely your letter will be read by a member of the legislator’s staff. Keep your message concise to ensure that it gets read, and for e-mails, any attachments are usually better off delivered in person unless requested by the legislator’s office.
Making Phone Calls
Like letters phone calls allow you to directly reach a legislator’s office to give your opinion. Just as with letters, an office may receive hundreds or more calls per day. Getting your message through is a matter of reaching the right person, with the right information.
- Ask for the right person - For an unsolicited call, it’s unlikely you’ll have a chance to speak with a legislator. Instead you’ll want to ask for the member of their staff who deals with your issue.
- Let them know who you are - Just as with a letter, let the person you’re talking to know who you are, who you represent, and whether or not you’re a constituent.
- Keep it short and to the point - Personal stories are less effective over the phone than they are in person. Highlight key points and facts, and what you would like the legislator to do, but keep it short.
- District vs. Capitol - Most legislators have two offices, if you’re calling for an action alert or right before a vote, make sure to reach out to their office at the capitol to make sure your message makes it through in time.
Using Social Media
Social media like Facebook and Twitter continue to be a growing part of the political landscape. Different legislators use different social media to many varying degrees, so knowing whether or not your legislator is using a specific platform is an important place to start before including this in your strategy.
- Social media is conversational - You can be more informal than a letter or phone call. Focus on a quick highlight of a specific link or fact, or ask for support on an issue.
- Show your thanks - Social media is also a legislator’s tool for public awareness. Thank you notes and photos from your event help make you a valuable partner in legislative and advocacy efforts.
- Express your disagreement - The public awareness of social media is a two-way street. If a legislator votes against your issue it’s ok to (respectfully) let them know you were disappointed and why.
- Know the lingo - Each social media has its own terminology. Quickly learning how to use things like hashtags “#” will help you navigate a successful message.