I always see posts on social media pleading for me to call Congress.
They are usually from well-meaning individuals or advocacy organizations and they are always structured the same way: a brief description of their issue, why they need me to call RIGHT NOW, and a number for me to dial.
I sometimes pick up the phone and call the number. Since I live in DC, my member of Congress isn't allowed to vote, so she doesn't have much political clout. Her office is terrible at answering the phone so I usually leave a message and go about my day, never receiving a callback. Most of the time the only follow up I get is a text from the group who posted the number asking for me to opt into their text messages.
I often wonder if the phone call to my representative made a difference. Did my member listen to my message, or was it logged into a database or a tracking system? Do they get so many phone calls that my voice gets drowned out from the noise?
I wrote this post to explore if phone calls are actually an effective method for contacting Congress...
Do Phone Calls Make A Difference?
Calling Congress is by far the easiest way to contact your elected official. It only takes a couple minutes, and if you call during business hours, you are likely to get an actual person to answer your call. But while calls are easy to make, they are not the most effective way to contact your member of Congress or your Senators.
While you are able to speak directly to a person and make your case about your issue, the person on the other end is generally an intern or a junior-level staffer.
Typically the intern has very little influence on policy decisions and may be inexperienced. They spend most of their day engaging with constituents, giving tours and learning the ropes.
Most offices simply have interns log your call into an excel spreadsheet or online tracking system and the higher level staffers get a report at the end of the week highlighting how many phone calls they got, what they were about, and where constituents stood on the issue.
If you have an influential personal story, there is no way for the intern to pass it on to a higher-up. This is why, when the Congressional Management Foundation surveyed senior-level staffers in 2015, they said letters to members to Congress were more effective than telephone calls for changing their member of Congress's mind on an issue.
So, Are Phone Calls A Waste Of Time?
Phone calls to Congress can be powerful and impactful if a large group of people call at the same time about the same issue. This shows the member of Congress that many people in their district care about a certain issue and they need to take heed to their voters.
Be careful though: this strategy can backfire if not done correctly. If there is a big push to get people to call their member about an issue but few people call their representative, staffers could interpret this to mean that their constituents do not care about the issue.
Another way a phone call campaign can backfire is if the group organizing the call campaign does not include a clear "ask." This could annoy staffers if you have no instructions for the office to take on your issue.
Billy is the Co-founder and CEO of Lobbyists 4 Good.