Do politicians pay attention to email?

I know that a few years ago I was told that politicians ignored email and only paid attention to snail mail or phone calls. Does anyone know if that has changed now that so many people have Internet access? I ask because sending email to my elected officials is sooooo easy, whereas I don’t own a printer and I have atrocious handwriting. But if they ignore it, it’s not doing anything except making me feel better…

I don’t think it gets ignored entirely, but I do think it’s weighted less than phone calls or letters. I still email 'em, though.

I always get an on-topic written response back (via postal mail) when I email Pete Hoekstra. So, his staff is at least not ignoring it outright.

Protip: They will ignore all your attempts at communicating with them.

But if you are so inclined, the secretary will print out email for the Congressman and stack it with the snail mail – just as any other large organization would do.

Before s/he does that, s/he’ll send out a form letter addressing buzzwords in your email. After that, they’ll get to the serious business of ignoring your letter.

I emailed my U.S. senator back in college 10 years ago and received an email response back within three days.

RIP Paul Wellstone =\

Untrue, in my experience.

Email is given the least weight because it’s so easy to send an email, and the signal to noise ratio is abysmal. Plus with emails, politicians have to worry about bots and the like, and it’s the hardest to verify the likelyhood of the sender actually being a constituent. Your email will be mined (either by software or an aide or both, depending) for keywords and compiled into a report of what the constituents are saying about issue X.

Sending a letter takes more effort than email, so the s/n ratio is better. Also, a staffer has to actually read the thing. It still gets boiled down to “constituent X has opinion Y about isssue Z” but there are far fewer letters than emails, so an aide is more likely to take note of your actual words. Good arguments may be passed along, and if you’re lucky the entire letter will be passed along. This is also true of email, but less so. Also, massive amounts of letters on an issue mean a lot more than massive amounts of emails, because it’'s so easy to get people to send emails en mass with a web form.

Calling is treated similarly. Often when you call, you can speak directly to a staffer. They will dutifully record that you have position Y on issue Z. But if you make an impression on the aide, you may get farther, or your particular argument may stick in his or her mind. Sometimes you’ll reach a machine, which makes it more likely that you’ll be reduced to “X thinks Y about Z”. But calling is also far rarer than emails, and it involves more of an investment and more interaction.

Thanks for the responses, everybody. I appreciate them.

The reason they snail mail you back is that they are legally required to keep copies of all email, and they don’t want to do that.

The Congresswidget will be informed of particularly interesting stuff, and sometimes even writes the reply itself, but mostly it’s a form letter filled out by a Page (because they’re free and useless) or staffer. The Congresswidget does get a report of matters being mentioned in communiques, but the vast majority of the letters are never going to go anywhere near their eyes.

The best way, bar none, to get the attention of your Congresswidget is to attend one of its fundraising dinners and hammer your issue into its head personally. They often have a freaky good memory, and you’ll be more likely to actually make an impression.

I asked someone on another forum whether email campaigns (even organized ones from a lobby group, for example) are tracked. Here is the reply from someone in a reasonably high position in a governor’s office or two:

Yes they are. The tracking system the Governor’s office uses takes into consideration “for” and “against” when people write in on budget issues and bills. While I was running that dept., I always presented the top 5 for the week at each staff meeting. Also, when bill packets were being finalized to present to the Governor for him to review during the Veto process, the final numbers were included for his review. This was for both Governors that I worked for.

No comment on what is weighted more, but they do indirectly pay attention to email.

I don’t see how this counts as “ignoring.” It’s not like staffers are working entirely independently from the Congresscritter.

If it’s a UK politician, the mail is titled “About your expenses” and signed “The Daily Telegraph” I reckon so.


Several years after my ex-wife and I got out of the Army, some collection agency started calling us and demanding money. For some reason, they were convinced she was still in the military, and that she owed over a thousand dollars in dues for Servicemen’s Group Life Insurance. Obviously, this was complete bullshit, but they kept calling. They called after I spoke to them repeatedly. They called after we sent in documentation numerous times. They called, and called, and called.

Having had enough, I collected all the information I had, and mailed my state representative, Tammy Baldwin. Within days I got a reply from her office saying they’d look into it. Then I got another letter with an apology, a promise that they’d take care of it, and was askied if there was anything else they could do. We never heard from the collection agency again. I vote the shit out of that lady every chance I get.

I don’t think you can answer this with any certainty unless you are talking about a specific politician. I know staffers that work in about 20 different House and Senate offices, and all of them handle things differently, but what Cosmic Hippo said is generally accurate.

I’ve actually been in the office when they’ve been reading emails, answering calls, or reading letters. It all depends on the office, but I’d say as a general rule they will never, ever just ignore your email or letter. Like CH said, they usually have a file (they have software that keeps track, but some use just a spreadsheet) to put your name, if you’re in their district, and where you are in the “yay or nay” column of a particular issue. So, in aggregate, your voice is heard.

If you are writing to give your opinion and ask them to draft some new bill, or take some action other than a vote, that of course takes a little more effort. I will tell you, though, that those kinds of things are rarely just brushed off by a staffer who answers the phone. The decision to say, accept the invitation to come to a meeting and answer questions will be made higher up.

It works about as you think. If you write an email and say “I want you to tell the Congressman to vote no on Legalizing Marijuana!” they of course won’t go into their office and say “Bob says vote no!”, that just get a tick on “Vote No”. But if you are eloquent and present yourself well, whether it be via email, letter, or phone call, you’ll get further.

If you email or letter is just hate mail, it will be scanned for issues, noted and tossed. No one wants to read that crap. Especially bad is when people call to complain and instead of saying their peace and having the staffer make a note of it, they keep them on the phone forever, ranting. They won’t outright call you an asshole and hang up on you, but in the worse case scenario I’ve seen people say “I’m sorry, I have to get back to work, I’m going to have to let you go” several times.

With the limited staff they have, the system works about as well as you could possibly imagine.

That’s what happened the time or two I e-mailed the Clinton white house. I’m sure it was 90% form letter, but the content was on-topic to what I wrote about, so somebody at least read it.