This Friday, the tax payer funded Congressional Management Foundation (CMF) is hosting a briefing for Members of Congress and their staff on their new study: Online Town Hall Meetings: Exploring Democracy in the 21st Century. The CMF study consisted of 21 townhall meetings where Members of Congress and CMF provided a moderator: “spoke via voice over IP, and constituents asked questions and made comments by typing them. Only off-topic, redundant, unintelligible, or offensive questions were screened, and only questions asked by people who had not yet asked a question were prioritized.”
CMF does not say what qualifies as offensive, but if this summer is any indication that definition would include anything that the Congressman did not want to talk about. In other words, this report urges Congressmen not to actually interact with their constituents, but to avoid them altogether by holding safe townhalls they can completely control. And what did CMF find where the results of these Potemkin townhalls?
The online town halls increased constituents’ approval of the Member. Every Member involved experienced an increase in approval by the constituents who participated. The average net approval rating (approve minus disapprove) jumped from +29 before the session to +47 after. There were also similar increases in trust and perceptions of personal qualities – such as whether they were compassionate, hardworking, accessible, etc. – of the Member.
The lesson: avoid your constituents’ inconvenient questions and your approval ratings will rise. And this is a taxpayer funded study. Here is the grant from the National Science Foundation.
Congress is actually using your tax dollars to pay social scientists to find ways they can avoid actually talking to their constituents while improving their chances of reelection.