Do Grassroots Phone Campaigns Work?
A “call your legislator” campaign can boost the chances of a legislator supporting the relevant legislation by about 12 percentage points.
That’s the conclusion of an academic field study from Michigan State University, “A Field Experimental Study of the Impact of Citizen Contacts on Legislative Voting.” The study examined the effectiveness of an organized grassroots phone campaign, where an advocacy organization contacted a legislator’s constituents, informed them about an issue that their legislators would be voting on, and then transferred that constituent directly to the legislator’s office to share their opinions.
This is known as a patch-through phone call. As someone who has created an implemented patch-through phone call campaigns and seen them work, it is gratifying to see that academic research backs this up.
The estimated effect is substantial: being contacted by constituents increases the probability of supporting the relevant legislation by about 12 percentage points. -- Michigan State University Study
Patch-through phone calls have been around a long time as an advocacy tool. Many organizations may look past a phone campaign in favor of email-based efforts, where constituents are asked to send an email to their elected officials. I believe there is a place for all forms of contact, but do think phone calls are overlooked. Phone campaigns can be an important tool for amplifying an issue’s importance and for stepping the pressure on an issue that is close.
A ringing phone cannot be ignored. A ringing phone with a voting constituent on the other end of the line is even harder to ignore. The 12 percentage point gain created by phone calls to legislators is proof.
Here are a few tips that I believe can push that 12 percentage point advantage even higher:
1) Constituents only, please: It shouldn’t need to be said, but phone campaigns should only be engaging the constituents of a lawmaker to make the phones calls.
2) To sweeten the pot, making the calls come from registered voters – not just people who live in the appropriate district – is even better.
3) Let’s add more honey – calls from business, civic or local elected officials (like a mayor, city councilman, or county commissioner) can make those calls resonate even further.
4) Use live operators – while there are times when automated phone calls can be effective, as a general rule I think live operators are better, for several reasons. But the primary reason is that nothing is more effective than people talking to people. The personal touch will increase the voter’s comfort, enable him or her to ask questions and get the answers that will lead to a more informed call and better experience for the constituent and legislative office.
Note: If you need to activate more than once on the same issue, you could use the initial patch through call to create a second list, a subset – those most willing to engage – and use a more automated process, either an automated call to the advocate, text message or email, to engage them for the next round.
5) Feedback is critical – Make sure your program has a way to get feedback, from constituents and legislators. Call back a percentage of the constituents who agree to talk with their legislators and ask how it went. What happened when they spoke with their members’ offices? Also, have your lobbyist get feedback from the offices being called. How are the calls being perceived? (Although have your grains of salt ready, it’s natural for staff to grouse a bit about ringing phones). Use the feedback to adjust your campaign as needed to make it more effective.
Grassroots phone campaigns work and can be amazingly effective. What kind of results can you achieve?
Let us know your questions and comments!
Scott Barker has more than 27 years of experience in public affairs communication. He has worked with Fortune 100 companies, senior level government officials, political leaders and candidates to deliver winning communications campaigns.