Online Town Hall Meetings

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Report: Online Town Hall Meetings: Exploring Democracy in the 21st Century



“Much like the printing press of another era, the Internet is being used to transform our democracy. While enormous attention has been lavished on the role of the Internet in Presidential electoral politics, relatively little attention has been focused on how the Internet might transform the existing relationship between Members of Congress and their constituents. This relationship is the fundamental building block of a representative democracy, and it has come under strain with the escalating complexity of policy and the increased size of congressional districts. Does the Internet offer opportunities to ease the strain and bring citizens closer to their Representatives in Congress? To find out, we worked with Members of Congress to conduct a series of online discussions with constituents. What we found surprised even us.

By participating in a single half-hour discussion with one of their Members of Congress, constituents were more likely to:

o Increase their trust in, and approval of, the Member;

o Better understand the policy issue that was discussed;

o Change their opinion on the issue discussed to align more with the Member’s position;

o Increase their engagement in politics;

o Turn out to vote; and

o Vote for the Member.

This report provides the details of our findings from a series of online discussions conducted between 2006 and 2008. For the most part, the discussions involved Members of Congress meeting online with a small but diverse group of constituents (15-25) selected at random by a research firm. “