Do Politicians Respond to Emails?

Writing at the Monkey Cage, political scientist Cristian Vaccari describes his research about how  political candidates, who often rely heavily on email lists, actually respond to emails:

As part of a broader study of the online presence of parties, party leaders, and Presidential candidates in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the U.K., and the U.S., I tested whether and how rapidly their staffs responded to two types of emails (sent from separate fictitious accounts in the official language of each country): one asking for their positions on taxes (a cross-cutting issue that should not strongly differentiate between different types of parties), the other pledging to be willing to volunteer for them and asking for directions on how to do so. Emails were sent in the two weeks prior to national elections between 2007 and 2010 to a total of 142 parties and candidates. The results speak volumes to the lack of responsiveness among political actors: excluding automated responses, only one in five emails received a reply within one business day.

A few other interesting tidbits from Vaccari’s research:

[P]arties tend to respond more than candidates, that more resourceful parties are more likely to answer the issue question (but not the volunteer pledge, indicating that poorer parties are more careful not to waste opportunities to add volunteer hours), and that progressive parties tend to respond more than conservatives do. (In case you are interested, both during the 2008 primary and general election Barack Obama’s campaign answered both emails, whereas McCain’s did not. Overall, U.S. parties and Presidential candidates were less likely than average to reply to both emails.)

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  1. Eric M. Jones says:

    I have sent hundreds of emails and regular mail to politicians in the last few years.

    My results:

    Replies: ZERO

    I hear they weight mail in piles based on opinions, then trash it all. Perhaps my opinions would have more weight if I taped my mail to a brick. I don’t know how to improve email replies.

    In fact the ONLY reply I can remember ever getting (from a politician 10 years ago) was from Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s people when I requested a copy of a speech of his. They refused, since I was not in his district.

    Nobody else in the government seem to be interested. I reported a massive email scam to the Treasury dept. They weren’t interested. Everyone is asleep and getting paid for it. Get used to it.

    Yawn…

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    • Enter your name... says:

      I suspect that it depends on the contents of your message. The last time I sent a message to my representative, I got prompt, personal replies in e-mail plus a phone call.

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  2. Jason says:

    The methodology seems a little bit off:

    - If you email a US campaign two weeks before election day, you may be a little late to be helpful. Most of the mailers and walk pieces are out already. Staff is focused on deploying volunteers more than adding to the list.

    - There is a difference between emailing the campaign and the office. If you email a Member of Congress at their non-campaign office two weeks before an election, there is probably no one there focused on outreach.

    Side note – I did email my Member of Congress requesting help with my mortgage lender. Instead, some automated email system scanned my note and thanked me for my comments about the mortgage crisis. Sad disadvantage to email – it is more likely to be scanned and replied to without a person ever touching it. In pre-email days, I interned for a senator and every piece of mail was read and reviewed by staff.

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  3. Brian says:

    I have emailed my national representatives (all 3)5-6 times over the last several years and have received a response every time. Several times the response has been a form letter, but it was more specific than the generic one Jerry received. It stated my representative’s position on the issue. The other responses have been very specific to my email.

    I think two factors are involved. Although I send messages to all three, I personalize each one. And the representatives of my state are well organized.

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  4. brian l says:

    I’m not sure this is such a bad thing. A simple example:
    Consider a US rep. who has roughly 400,000 constituents according to electoral laws (iirc). If 5% write their rep once a year that’s 20,000 emails per year per rep. If 20% of those are responded to within 1 day that’s 4,000 emails per year or 13 emails per day assuming 300 working days per year. Given the other duties of a rep, such as voting, committee meetings, etc…, I think we have to ask ourselves how much time we want our elected reps to spend on replying to emails of constituents. Remember, these are just the emails that are answered in 1 day and my example is simply for reps. Imagine we expand the 400,000 constituents out to the number per governor, senator, or president…we’re now talking about alot of emails to answer every day even if only 5% write emails and only 20% of those are answered.
    To further my point, many of the emails are likely not worth responding to. For example, go visit fox or cnn’s website, find an article about politics and see if you think that 20% of the comments at the bottom of the article are worthy of a response.

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    • Rick says:

      Seriously? You think any politician answers emails? Most of our Congressmen have staffs of over 200 to deal with things like constituents emails.

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  5. Tom says:

    Not to surprising considering the timing of the emails. Having worked in both the U.S. House of Representatives and Parliament of Australia, all constituent contact gets a response. A policy question gets a policy answer, which may be a form letter. Two weeks out from a campaign, this is likely to slow down though. Most of the staff are going to focused on more effective vote winning strategy (targeted GOTV) rather than responding to an email from someone who may not even vote.

    Also, especially in the US context, the author doesn’t specify whether he sent the inquires to a member’s official office or his campaign office.

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  6. Paul says:

    Comming from a small society, I can tell you they do not only not respond to emails. They are also very hard to get on the phone, or in direct letters. To actually make contact to these kind of individuals, who are either busy, or dont care, you need to make personal contact, or send them a message that you are willing to pay for their influence.

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