February 07, 2018

Why Politicians Respond to Some Callers and Not to Others

Five steps you can take to make more effective calls to Congress

by Stefanie Coxe

If the President wants some precise military drill to liven up his afternoon, the Blue Angels will be happy to indulge him. Photo by David Treadwell

Ever wondered why some activists seem to have more luck not only getting a response from a politician, but actually seem able to persuade them to vote one way or another?

As reported by Wired, the OpenGov Foundation’s latest report shows Congressional offices pay attention to callers who seem to represent the district:

Someone told us: “_If this week I get 500 emails on this issue, even if it’s a huge uptick and we’ve never had that before, 500 people is not statistically significant for the size of our district,” _explains Mollie Ruskin, a former designer for the United States Digital Service, who led the OpenGov Foundation research. “It doesn’t tell me how the whole district feels.”

This is an open secret in the lobbying world. More isn’t always better. The key is which voters are doing the advocacy, along with how they are doing it. And not only do Congressional offices consider the whole of the district, they consider the voters who are most likely to move to or from their camp.

To illustrate, let’s look at President Lincoln’s famous (and possibly apocryphal) quote: “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time”.

The way politicians think of voters

Politicians, then and now, generally divide voters in their district into three categories: people who will always be with them (their base); people who will always be against them; and people who are persuadable. The good politicians say things now and then to keep their base happy. They usually don’t waste their time appealing to the voters who wouldn’t vote for them if they were the last candidate on earth**. So the lion’s share of their votes, district advocacy, and public relations are meant to show those people in the middle — the persuadable voters — that they are doing a good job and deserve to be re-elected.**

How can you make sure you’re considered part of this critical constituency?

1. Watch your social media posts. Anything that looks hyper-partisan will paint you as firmly unpersuadable.

  1. Don’t just call on partisan issues. Switch it up to include, as illustrated below, cancer reseach.

3. Relationship-build with politicians and their staff by attending events they will be at and introducing yourself, thanking them when they do a good job, and meeting district staff.

4. Use your personal experience or the story of a friend or family member to illustrate why this is important to you. Talking points provided by outside organizations are helpful, but keep in mind staff have heard them a few dozen times since lunch. Stand out from the crowd thru story-telling.

  1. Build up your credibility in the district. Are you involved in your local Chamber of Commerce? On the Board of Directors for an area non-profit? How about just being a good networker? The more you are viewed as someone who can shape others’ opinions within the district, the more your views will be taken seriously.

Remember you can call your officials anytime with Resistbot, just type call after you type house, senate, or congress so we patch you through to the right offices. 👊🤖

Stefanie Coxe is the founder & principal of Nexus Werx LLC, a political training company launching the Learn to Lobby line of online and in-person training products: Effective Activism 101, Lobbying 101, and Campaigning 101.

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