The Internet As Conduit For Congress and the Public

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Yesterday, the Congressional Management Foundation released the report, Communicating with Congress: How the Internet Has Changed Citizen Engagement, in which they reported on a survey of over 10,000 citizens about their interactions and communications with member of congress.

Of the report’s findings, what caught my interest is CMF’s statement that the Internet is now the primary source citizens use to follow and communicate with Congress. Their research found that 92 percent of Internet users who had contacted Congress had visited a member of Congress’ Web site.  And a plurality (43 percent) of citizens contacting Congress did so using online methods, which is twice the percentage that used snail mail or telephones. Obviously, this was bound to happen…not surprisingly it seems like we reached this milestone pretty fast.

CMF also found that almost half of adult Americans (44 percent) contacted Congress in the last five years to support, oppose or learn more about issues of interest to them. This is a much higher contact rate than a report in 2004 which found that 18 percent of Americans had contacted Congress.

According to CMF, other findings include:

  • 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.
  • 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.

Along the same lines, U.S. Rep. John R. Kuhl (R-N.Y.)launched a couple weeks ago his “Fix Washington” project where he is soliciting online input on ideas for bills to introduce. On July 18th he will take what he considers the best five ideas and put them up on the site so users can vote for their favorite.  It’s definitely an interesting experiment.

Kuhl’s experiment is one more example of how some lawmakers are really starting to get it.

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