Note to organizers of grassroots campaigns: The greater the volume of emails (or comparable communications), the less likely legislators who receive them will take them seriously.
That’s an oversimplification, but a political scientist from the University of Massachusetts-Lowell has found that the “flattened costs of grassroots lobbying” mean that recipients are now deluged with so many messages they tend to disregard them. Sheer volume “no longer signals the value of the information” in the messages, writes Professor John Cluverius in Political Research Quarterly. “So the traditional model no longer works.”
Cluverius finds that “lobbying message volume has no effect on legislator response,” and it might in fact be counterproductive.
“I have a little experience in the area, having worked for a company that provided advocacy software to groups large and small,” he says. “This was right before I went to graduate school, and back then people seemed to believe the more emails you could send, the better. But my research suggests that large volumes of messages can backfire. It can sound like AstroTurf and is viewed with skepticism.”
But high volumes of messaging can be counterproductive in other ways, too. “Messages that attempt to explain policy to a legislator are a bad idea,” Cluverius explains. “Legislators are surrounded by people who study policy every day, so they don’t need an issue to be explained to them. What legislators want to know is how a person’s own life is affected by policy, and the high-volume approach actually makes it difficult to find meaningful information because it contributes to the general noisiness of the information environment.”
Email advocacy is not going away anytime soon, but focusing more on personal outreach, and explaining the personal benefits or consequences of policy, may help advocates break through the noise, or at least mute it a bit.
Want More Information on This Topic?
Contact Nick Desarno, manager of digital and communications practices, Public Affairs Council
Check out our event on In-District Grassroots and Advocacy Strategies on June 15.