Study: Online chats time well-spent for several lawmakers

Online town hall forums greatly increase the likelihood that constituents will vote for members of Congress, with many voters shifting their position on an issue closer to the lawmaker’s, according to a new study released Monday.

The study was conducted by the Congressional Management Foundation (CMF), a nonprofit Internet advocacy group. It facilitated and monitored 20 online town hall meetings with 13 lawmakers discussing topics like immigration and detainee policy with 15 to 20 constituents at a time.

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Overall, participants reported a 15 percent increase in approval of their member after the 30-minute online sessions than they had held previously.

“There were also similar increases in trust and perceptions of personal qualities — such as whether they were compassionate, hardworking, accessible, etc. — of the member,” said the study.
 
Participating members included eight Democrats and five Republicans: Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Reps. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Michael Capuano (D-Mass.), Mike Conaway (R-Texas), Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Don Manzullo (R-Ill.), Jim Matheson (D-Utah), David Price (D-N.C.), George Radanovich (R-Calif.) and Dave Weldon (R-Fla.).

Swing voters were some of the most affected in the study. Constituents who entering the study said that there was a 50 percent chance they would vote for the member after the online meeting said that there was a 73 percent they would vote in the member's favor.

On the topic of immigration, the study found that the approval rating of how greatly constituents agreed with the lawmaker’s position on the issue increased significantly — from 20 percent to 58 — with participants saying they often shifted their own position toward that of the member as well.

Likewise, the study found that people who participated in the online town hall sessions were more than 20 percent as likely to vote for the member than before they participated.

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CMF is looking to undertake future studies on how the online forum compares to in-person and telephone town halls.

Researchers with CMF cited the study’s timeliness, saying that online town halls are increasing in popularity because they reduce pulls on the politician’s time, money and staffing needs.