Key Findings

Tele-Town Halls (TTHs) are an increasingly popular technique for office-holders to conduct very large-scale telephone conference calls with constituents at low cost. These calls are used to update constituents on Members’ recent and upcoming activities, as well as to take calls from constituents and conduct “insta-polls” using telephone keypads.

Building upon anecdotal evidence of these TTHs’ effectiveness, we set out to conduct the first-ever survey of TTH participants, as well as focus group discussions to better understand the TTH phenomenon.

These are the key findings:

1) Higher frequency of Member contact (of any type) correlates with multiple measures of higher job approval

2) If constituents hear from their Member often, they likelier to view the Member as a friend or acquaintance. If they don’t hear from their Member, he remains a stranger

3) For a majority of constituents, Members are not contacting them regularly enough to satisfy them

4) Across different forms of outreach, frequency of non-campaign “touch” correlates to higher levels of satisfaction with Member’s job performance

5) Printed newsletters viewed as the best use of taxpayer money to keep the largest number of people in one’s district well-informed

6) Ironically, printed newsletters are also viewed as the worst use of taxpayer money to keep the largest number of people in one’s district well-informed

7) In the abstract, it takes time to get constituents to warm up to the idea of a conference call with their Congressman. But once they join a call and begin to understand it, it strongly (and positively) transforms their view of their Congressman. The more TTHs a constituent attends, the higher the Member’s favorability.

8) The TTH experience transforms constituents for a variety of reasons—not just one

9) The more TTHs constituents do, the more often they want to do them

10)  Participation in TTHs correlates to improving levels of satisfaction with Member’s job performance over the past four years

11)  TTH participants prefer the telephone town hall to a traditional town hall by a nearly two-to-one margin; Non-TTH participants prefer the traditional town hall by a nearly three-to-one margin

12)  The TTH “bounce” is dramatic among GOP constituents of GOP Members—but Democratic constituents on balance also respond favorably to TTH outreach by GOP Members

Best Practices Following these findings, this report includes a list of 25 recommended “TTH Best Practices” to improve the execution of TTHs for practitioners and novices. These Best Practices are derived mainly from the focus groups along with some data from the survey. Overview of Research Presentation Testing conducted a two part research project in October 2007 to study the emerging communications process being adopted by Members of Congress known as Tele Town Halls (TTHs). We set out to answer two questions:

1) Are TTHs as effective as anecdotal feedback from Members suggests?

2) Assuming TTHs are effective, what practical steps can Members take before, during and after each TTH call to make them even more so?

The research consisted of a survey of 867 registered voters across six Congressional districts. We surveyed TTH participants in particular portions of three Congressional districts where Members have been actively hosting TTH calls. These three districts are the 6th District of Pennsylvania, the 2nd District of Kentucky, and the 3rd District of California. As control groups we also surveyed constituents in these same districts who never participated in TTHs, as well as constituents in three other districts in the same states where TTHs are not currently done: the 16th District of Pennsylvania, the 1st District of Kentucky, and the 40th District of California.

Following the survey, we conducted two focus groups in each of the three TTH-active districts. In Reading, PA, Bowling Green, KY, and Rancho Cordova, CA, one focus group consisted of registered voters who had never participated in a TTH, and another that had participated. These groups were convened during the last two weeks of October, 2007, and each lasted between 90 minutes and two hours.


View full report in PDF