How Policymakers Evaluate Online versus Offline Constituent Messages
20 Pages Posted: 13 Oct 2018 Last revised: 28 Sep 2019
Date Written: November 30, 2018
The internet has made it easier than ever for citizens to voice their opinion to their elected representatives. However, theories of costly signaling suggest officials may infer that constituents who write to them via lower-effort online mediums care less about the issues than those who communicate in person. To examine this possibility, we fielded a national survey of local U.S. policymakers to examine responsiveness to different types of constituent messages. We find that policymakers rate social media messages as substantially less informative and less influential than identical messages delivered in person. However, this discount factor can be overcome through increased participation: our conjoint estimates imply that a message received online from 47 constituents is as influential as the same message received from a single constituent in person. Taken together, these findings illustrate the double-edged nature of low-cost communication technologies for representation in the digital era.
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