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keeping in close and continuous contact with constituents while the congress

man is in Washington.

Depending on the district's distance from Washington, the average

number of trips back to the district per month ranges from one or two for

most Western States congressmen to four or more for many members from the North

east. Members from the South, Great Lakes, and Central States regions usually nake two or three trips per month. Regional norms seem to hold fairly well,

except that some high seniority and politically secure members do return to the

district less frequently, especially if they have heavy committee or leadership responsibilities. And on the other hand, congressmen from politically marginal districts are likely to visit the district somewhat more often than

average.

When in the district, the pace and distribution of activity varies

widely. Congressmen from active urban districts are likely to be on the go

continuously with a tight schedule which might include meetings with community leaders and local government officials, public appearances at schools and business clubs, and visits with the local media representatives. In rural and

mixed districts where the population is more widely dispersed, congressmen

generally spend more time moving around the district from town to town,

talking with people on the street, and holding public office hours.

2. Written or print channels. The personal letter via Washington is

clearly the congressman's most important written channel of constituent communi

cation and ranks fourth among all channels, of somewhat less but still signif

icant perceived importance are the report or newsletter which ranks tenth

and the survey or questionnaire which ranks eleventh. Most congressmen receive

several hundred letters a week from constituents, and a major problem is the

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rising volume.

Some offices

report a 10-15% increase over last year, although

data for the House as a whole suggest an annual rate of increase of about

five percent.

Nonetheless, for most purposes, constituents are encouraged to write

rather than call or visit, because experience seems to indicate that the act

of putting one's ideas down on paper leads to a more articulate and better

thought out communication. And many offices do keep at least an approximate

count of the mail in order to monitor opinion, while recognizing that only a

small minority of constituents (perhaps no more than 5-10%) ever write at all.

In order to cope with the mail situation, almost all offices use some

kind of automatic typewriter or "robotype" to respond to form letters, petitions, organized interest group mail, and constituent opinion mail on big volume issues. This conserves time for those casework and legislative letters which require an individually drafted reply.

About three-quarters of the offices in the sample send out & survey or

questionnaire on a regular basis to every household in the district using the

postal patron privilege. But despite this wide use, only 10% of the sample offices perceived questionnaires to be "very important," frequently because the main purposes served are to get the name of the congressman before

constituents and to give constituents something to respond to, with only

secondary emphasis on actually getting a valid sampling of constituent views.

Most everyone seems to agree that questionnaires are quite vulnerable

to bias both in the way questions are selected and written, and in the way the

responses are interpreted. In addition, relatively few constituents ever

complete and return their questionnaire. The average household response rate

is 9.3%, with a mode and median of 10%, and a range of 2-20%.

The average

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response rate is somewhat higher for districts with Republican congressmen,

12%, as compared to 6.75% for Democratic districts, perhaps in part reflecting the more affluent and educated nature of Republican districts in this sample.

While congressmen send many other kinds of printed material to their

constituents--Congressional Record reprints, government pamphlets, copies

of speeches and bills, and assorted reports and newsletters--the report or

newsletter is the only one of these viewed as important, ranking somewhere

between the personal letter and questionnaire. Like most everything else,

the quality and quantity of congressional newsletter varies dramatically. Some members place a high priority on trying to educate constituents about current

issues and legislation. But more commonly, the newsletter serves to publicize

the congressman's recent activities in Washington, present the member's views

on current events and legislation, and identify the congressman with various

constituent groups and individuals known in the district.

The average frequency in this sample is 4.45 newsletters per year, but

with a mode and median of 2-3 per year. Usually one or two newsletters per

year go to all postal patrons, with additional reports sent only to more

selective mailing lists.

There is some indication that the frequency of news

letters falls off with increasing seniority and political security.

3. News media channels. With the exception of letters, the face-to

face and written constituent communication channels have at least one charac

teristic in common--their use by the congressman is to a large extent under his own control. In contrast, use of news media channels requires at least a minimum amount of cooperation, interest, and initiative on the part of media

reporters and editors. Because such media coverage is generally perceived as

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important, congressmen make considerable effort to establish and maintain

good media relations.

District newspaper coverage is ranked very high--fifth in overall

importance--and is followed closely by press releases to the district media

(which help facilitate media coverage in general) and radio news coverage,

ranking eighth and ninth respectively. Somewhat surprisingly, television news

coverage ranks only twelfth. And the signed newspaper column is the least

important of news media channels. This ranking apparently reflects the feeling

that congressmen have better access to and get more attention from the press,

radio, and television in that order.

One explanation is that district newspapers are far better represented

in Washington than are district radio and television. Most congressional

districts do have one or more radio stations, but the initiative lies largely with the congressman, as evidenced by the increasing use of recorded telephone "beeper" calls direct from Washington to the local stations.

And access to broadcast television is clearly the most restricted, at least from the viewpoint of members whose districts are either in major media markets (where competition for television attention is intense and each congressional district accounts for only a small part of the total market) or in very minor media markets (where local television coverage is very limited or nonexistent). Perceived quality of television coverage tends to be higher when

the district covers a large part of the relevant media market.

Where television coverage of congressmen is poor (in major urban areas and the rural areas), radio takes on special importance. And if in addition the district is not well-covered by major daily newspapers, then the signed

newspaper column in the weekly or community newspaper takes on significance.

of course, media news coverage also depends on a number of other

factors like (a) the editorial and operational policies of media management,

(b) the stature of the particular congressman in the community, (c) competition for coverage from other public office-holders, and (a) the receptivity of the

particular member to use of the media.

4.

Individual telecommunication channels. Whereas use of news media

for constituent communication is basically a one-way mass process--one congress

man to many constituents--and requires the cooperation of an intermediary (the

newspaper, radio, or television station), individual telecommunication channels

are typically used for two-way exchange between two individuals with the medium under their own control.

The standard telephone call is the most important of these telecommuni

cation channels and ranks sixth overall--right up with the face-to-face district

visit, personal letter, and newspaper coverage. Telephone calls via the district

office are perceived as more important than calls direct to Washington. The

telegraph ranks much lover (15th), primarily because telegrams are viewed as

too costly and/or unreliable for most purposes. Conferencephone or speakerphone hook-ups rank 22nd in overall importance, and are used sporadically by about one-third of the offices in the sample to facilitate two-way small group interaction. But these group calls are often found to be less than satisfactory from a technical or visceral point-of-view.

The volume and destination of incoming constituent phone calls seems to

be largely a function of distance. Congressmen with districts near Washington

have a problem with heavy phone volume, in part because of low phone tolls.

Constituents tend to call in on the spur of the moment, for example after reading

& provocative article in the morning paper. When the district is further away,

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