How to get politicians to listen to you
What may (or may not) surprise you is that I have friends in both Liberal and in the Labor parties. Some of my friends are staffers for politicians. When I got serious about marriage equality, I called my friends and asked them one simple question – how can I be sure to get the attention of my elected representatives?
Here is what both sides of politics tell me: they rank how seriously a voter takes an issue based on how you contact them. The also make two very simple assumptions – the more seriously you take an issue, the more likely it is to change your vote; and, the more seriously you take an issue, the more likely it is that others agree with you.
In Australia, the rankings go (from most impact to least impact):
- a personal visit to the office;
- a paper letter;
- an individually written email;
- a phone call;
- a form letter;
- a chance meeting;
- a form email; and,
- a ‘clicktavist’ email (from GetUp! or the like).
When a letter comes in, electoral office staff read it, categorise it and then look up a ‘constituent management database’ for your name, address and anything else you may have written to someone on the same side of politics. If your letter is something new If you send something new, they have to summarise it, scan it, upload it to the database and file the original piece of paper. It also gets added to the ‘communication summary’ – a quick regular briefing from the office staff to the politician. All of this takes time, fills space, requires effort and gets noticed.
An individually written email is easier to process: it’s pretty much cut and paste into the database.
Now, if you just change the addressee of your letter (by reusing a letter you sent to another politician) the staff will put a “+1” in the database and file your letter.
A phone call will get a quick ‘tweet size’ summary in the database (eg. “JN called, lives in our electorate. Wants gay marriage” or in my particular case “That fat poof called again” – hi Narelle! hope you like the blog – yes, I have heard about the pet names your team has for me).
The rest are pretty obvious: the rule of thumb is the more effort you put into the contact, the more committed you must be to the issue. The more committed you are to an issue, the more likely it is to be a vote changer. The more likely it is to be a vote changer for you, the more likely it is that other people are willing to vote on that issue, and finally – the more likely an issue is to be a vote changer, the more attention a politician will pay to the biggest side because they want to keep their seat so they can ‘do good’.
In a nutshell, each of our individual actions add-up.
The gold-standard is a press-storm where you get mainstream press and journalists calling the office and the representative for comment about you and your issue. The next best thing is a massive petition, which if managed correctly will usually trigger that press storm.If you can’t organise a press storm – then you should write a letter, print it out, put it in an envelope and mail it. When writing a letter, it’s also better to include a request for a meeting on the topic.
And, we know that Australian politicians configure their spam filters to filter out clicktivist emails so that they don’t even see them. The case of Australian Labor Party Member Steve Gibbons in Bendigo should have proved that already.
You may feel that your politicians aren’t listening to you. Chances are your feelings are accurate. It’s probably caused because your opposition is ‘louder’ than you – from the electoral officer’s perspective. They see more people committed to the opposite side of the issue and ignore your side because you can’t threaten their job.
Our opponents know this stuff. They are regularly sending letters: they don’t care about the reply they receive (or don’t receive) because they know that each letter each of them sends gets added to each other letter their friends send on the same topic and carry such a weighting that their side keeps the upper-hand. In pure PR terms it’s called astro-turfing – making something appear like ‘grass roots’ support when really it’s just a small group of committed individuals.
This is why I really want to you to write to your representatives. Our politicians notice when their staff can’t do anything useful because they’re spending time dealing with correspondence. And those annoying, worthless form letters you get back? Well they’re useful too! They chew up staff-time and chip into postage & printing allowance (that is normally used to print all those brochures that help to get the MPs reelected).
This week I wrote 104 individual letters to every member of the opposition asking them to set a ‘free-vote’ for their members. Each letter is unique in it’s phrasing and content. Each will have more impact than the effort I put into them.
If we want to win the right to same-sex marriage, then we need to game the system better than the Australian Christian Lobby. Hopefully this blog-entry will give you some ideas on how you can get your elected representatives attention.
Also – do not forget your senators – the same rules apply.