While working with countless organizations geared toward advocacy, the Cicero team often gets asked: what’s the best way to contact elected officials? These days, constituents have many different potential lines of communication with their representatives, and it’s hard to know which might be the most effective. Is email preferable to phone? Should I really be faxing my reps?
We decided to find out. In August, we attended the National Conference of State Legislatures Annual Summit, where we had access to over 1,000 State Senators and Representatives from across the United States, as well as many of their staff members. We asked them to share the best way for their constituents to contact them, and the results were surprising.
77% of representatives said they preferred email as the primary communication over every other option. The main reason? Emails are optimal for archiving requirements. In addition, many officials noted that they can easily forward or cc staff members who can assist. Emails also allow time for a well written and researched response. However, there was one exception: “Please, no form letters!” Almost all officials noted that they ignore form letters as a matter of course. “We really are interested in hearing stories from our individual constituents. Form letters are ineffective in that respect,” said one Representative.
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Everyone is communicating over social media these days, including elected officials. When asked, many legislators said that they actually preferred social media over email if their constituent simply wanted to express a policy position. These are easily viewed in places like Facebook and Twitter (if using Facebook, make sure to choose the right account to post on!). However, if you’re interested in starting a dialogue or receiving resources, social media platforms might not be ideal. One State Senator lamented the pains of having to copy and paste an entire Facebook chat into a document, then save and file that document each time he spoke with a constituent.
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Just 13% of the state legislators we spoke to would choose a phone call as the best way to contact them. “It’s nothing personal” one Representative noted, “We just aren’t available very often!” Between time in session and out in the community (and the fact that many state legislatures are not full time), there are few free moments when you might catch your Senator or Representative in their office. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still pick up the phone. Most elected officials at the state level (and certainly all members of Congress) have staff available to help constituents over the phone or pass along any concerns they may have.
It’s the year 2017. Is faxing really the best way to get your representative’s attention? None of our respondents listed fax as their first choice, and several requested their constituents not attempt to overload their fax machines. Resources in many states are tight, and bombarding fax lines often knocks them out or incapacitates them when they need to be used for other purposes. Bottom line: your fax may get noticed, but it isn’t the most productive way to communicate.
Aside from the one representative that replied with a definitive “Don’t” when asked how they wanted to be contacted (we think he was kidding?), most emphasized that they really did want to hear from their constituents. Just remember, the next time you sit down to call, email, or tweet your elected officials, keep it respectful and succinct! You might be surprised how often you’ll receive a response.