Friday, March 19, 2010

Calling Congress

So, with major votes coming up on HCR, representatives across the country are being inundated with calls and letters from constituents.  But what good does any of it do?  As technology has advanced, has it had any effect on the efficacy of calling your local congressperson?  Today we have text messages, emails, website polls.  We used to only have the old fashioned letter - and what did that mean to the officeholder?

This is a problem I have in general with representation. What should a representative make of calls or letters to his office? There just seems to be so much that could be inaccurate about the information. For instance, has some interest group mobilized supporters, in which case the number of calls/letters is a skewed representation.

Or does the issue have a certain appeal to a certain type of voter that might be interested more than others – for instance, a priority for a small number of voters might be 3rd or 4th on the list for the majority, and so a lack of call volume on one side doesn’t represent lack of opinion, but a reflection of how much any one citizen can be involved in every issue.

Then there is just the inherent bias in that there is a certain percent of the population that is more inclined to contact their representative. Does this make their stance any more significant, or indicative of larger sentiment?
And lastly, to what extent does rhetorical competence play a role? Does the fact that I can make a great case for issue X necessarily mean anything more than my fellow citizen who can’t? I mean, what kind of debate is taking place between the message and the congressional staffer? Especially on issues where there is a large volume of messaging, what can really be gleaned from any one constituent? I can’t imagine an aide saying, “Senator, look at this great argument here. They’re really on to something!” I’ve actually had a response from my state Senator, and I couldn’t believe it was really him who penned it. If he didn’t, what point did it serve when we weren’t really going to have a serious discussion. And if he did, doesn’t he have better things to do with his time?!!!

I’d really like to hear from someone with authority on this issue. How much does the average representative allow constituent messages to sway his vote, and how much should he? From a straight polling standpoint, the data seems entirely unreliable. A representative would seem to do much better to simply conduct polling in their district. But then, wasn’t that what elections were for? And shouldn’t they be basing their opinions on what they think is right, period?

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