There are large disparaties between the results of public sentiment as measured via pollsters and the actions taken by the elected politicians of those constituents.   The War.   Domestic spying.   Israel and Palestine.   The Stimulus.   Investigating US war crimes.   Why?

There’s a simple systemic explanation for the disconnect – letters to your Congressperson.

Consultants have advised constituent groups as to what medium to use when contacting their congress critter.   It appears the Congressional staffers weight the relative importance of each constituent communication based on the method of communication, presumably based on the barriers to sending each communication.

epolitics explains:

It’s a rule of thumb in the advocacy world: the more difficult an action is, the fewer people will take it and the more valuable it will be. The more someone goes out of his or her way to communicate with Congress, an agency or a targeted corporation, for instance, the more likely that action is to register. Email is easy to send and Congressional offices drown in it, so individual advocacy emails count for relatively little even when from constituents. A phone call requires more effort, and as research from the Congressional Management Foundation has shown, Hill offices tend to accord them more weight. The same idea applies as you move up the scale, with a personal visit from a constituent ranking highest of all, particularly if that constituent is also a donor.

A letter requires paper, a pen or computer, time and a stamp.   Therefore, it carries the greatest weight.   Form letters and faxes are in the middle.   Phone calls come next.   What one would presumably think is a democratizing element is viewed the most undemocratically – emails and other electronic communications are the most lightly weighted.   This also speaks to both the usability barriers and the lack of scalable infrastructure in the designing of electronic constituent communication.

The minority who write letters, not that there is anything wrong with it have undue influence, either by accident of choice over Congress.   It’s also pertinent to ponder the effect the Anthrax attacks had on Congress.   Mail was severely delayed and/or never sent at all – both post-9/11 and in the lead up to the war in Iraq.   This might help explain the timid response of Democrats in Congress despite the strong feelings of their base.

I’m suspect there are other social, demographic, ideological, political, and economic explanations for the disparity, but the evaluation of public opinion communications must play some role.

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