According to the General Social Survey (1972-2010 Cumulative Datafile), twenty-eight percent of American households report contacting an elected official sometime in the past five years. That’s a lot! Whether about a particular policy or a general concern, elected officials value this communication as it gives them a way to learn about constituent opinion and gauge whether they have an electoral incentive to attend to these concerns.
But how much contact is enough? Via randomized trial, Daniel Bergan and Richard Cole studied both the effects of phone calls and emails in two state legislatures, New Hampshire and Michigan (Bergan 2009; Bergan and Cole 2015). They find that if legislators receive 22 phone calls from constituents, they might change their vote on a bill – the phone calls had a nearly 12% effect on a legislator’s vote. Remarkably, the authors also find that if legislators received even more phone calls – 33, or even 65 – they weren’t any more likely to respond to their constituents then if they received just 22.
It takes 22. State legislators – and other local officials – receive relatively few contacts on all but the few “hot button” issues. Policy makers respond to constituents. Take action on a project today – and help that team get to 22!