In the United States, activists often encourage people to "call their congressmen" (or senator/representatives/etc.) to support certain causes. For example, the National Iranian American Council recently has this: Call Congress: Stop Ban Based on National Origin & Religious Beliefs

The page noted,

Calling is by far the most impactful action that you can take. If there is a big enough backlash, we can take a big step toward blocking the ban or shortening its duration. However, if this action is met with silence, it could be made permanent for the foreseeable future.

Are there any studies or even reports showing the effectiveness of calling one's elected official on national issues? In particular, do they sway an official's stance or do they lead to stronger actions? I've read some anecdotes, but they seem to be (a) just lip service warm response or (b) the congressmen doing what they would've done anyway, e.g. a Democrat supporting liberal-leaning causes.

  • This belongs on politics.stackexchange, not here. – Avery Jan 27 '17 at 6:31
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    @Avery Why? It is a notable and falsifiable claim. Political scientists have studied this empirically. – ff524 Jan 27 '17 at 6:44
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    Claim is far too vague and board for this site. The definition of 'effective' is vague, and the question doesn't take into account the possibility that it's 'effective' in some circumstances and not others. A political expert community is going to give a far better answer than this site. – DJClayworth Jan 27 '17 at 16:33

According to this blog post by University of Maryland political scientist Kristina Miler:

I found that contact from constituents matters, but it matters in a more pervasive and specific way than previously thought: letters, email, and phone calls from constituents influence how legislators view their constituency, which in turn shapes their behavior on the Hill.

Her methodology:

I conducted face-to-face interviews with a random sample of more than 80 House members and senior staff, using a series of questions about constituency contact and embedding a quasi-experimental design to understand the role information plays in legislative perceptions of the district.

More specifically, she would ask representative voting on a specific piece of legislation to tell her "to whom in their district was the Patients' Bill of Rights important" (e.g. doctors, patients, insurers, hospitals). She also had them fill out a form that provided a list of such subconstituencies, and asked (1) how much mail they had received from each subconstituency in the preceding 12 months, and (2) how frequently their legislative office had spoken with each of the listed subconstituencies in the preceding 12 months.

She found that:

Constituents that more frequently contact their legislator are more likely to be identified by legislators as relevant to an issue, and this holds true for both personal contact (phone calls, visits) and mail contact (letters, email). In fact, contact is the single most consistent predictor of which constituents legislators perceive in their district. For instance, if doctors in a district call their House member about once a month to express their feelings on healthcare while hospital administrators do not contact the representative, the legislator will be three times more likely to see the interests of physicians when considering his district’s interest on health policy. In addition, while both mail and personal contact increase the chances of being seen by legislators, personal contact is especially effective on salient issues.

In other words, legislators who had been contacted more frequently by (for example) constituents in the "patients" category, were more likely to say that the Patients' Bill of Rights legislation mattered to patients in their district.

Note, however, that

  • the sample size of this study is small, and
  • it's about ten years old.

An early version of the work she is referring to is published in the article:

Miler, K.C., 2007. The view from the hill: Legislative perceptions of the district. Legislative Studies Quarterly, 32(4), pp.597-628.

And the full version is in this book:

Miler, K.C., 2010. Constituency Representation in Congress: The View from Capitol Hill. Cambridge University Press.


In practice, phone calls to your representative are rarely answered by anyone relevant to shaping policy. A receptionist will filter the call, and depending on the topic, the representative may or may not even take the call. Studies and polls are too easily skewed to be reliable, and usually favor the person's view who presented it. I have found that taking a day off work and spending it at the representative's office waiting for a face to face audience works best to ensure your opinion is expressed. If you physically visit them, they tend to remember your message longer. The more visits the better, but they are busy people, so don't wear out your welcome. Take them to lunch. Present them with a small gift that displays your message or organization as a reminder of what you talked about.

  • Your answer doesn't address the possibility that the 'receptionist' says "I got a lot of calls in favour of XYZ today", which might shape policy. And what's the likelihood that an invitation to take your representative to lunch will be accepted from an ordinary constituent? – DJClayworth Jan 27 '17 at 16:36
  • anecdotally an acquaintance who worked in a congressional office claimed having a 'scoresheet' were they put tick marks next to the issues reported when opening mail or answering the phone. I have no documentation that it really happened, if it is common, or if the scorecards were ever read by anyone. – user36688 Jan 27 '17 at 17:57
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    "Studies and polls are too easily skewed to be reliable" Well, I guess that's it guys, let's shut it down. Turns out there's no way to ever learn the truth about anything, since everyone who conducts a study is just going to skew it to their own view, and there's literally no way to ever correct this. – JounceCracklePop Jan 30 '17 at 5:27

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