Tags: Trump Administration | lawmakers | reach | ignore | politicians

If It's Easy to Reach Lawmakers, They Ignore You

Image: If It's Easy to Reach Lawmakers, They Ignore You
(AP/Khue Bui)

Friday, 24 Mar 2017 07:10 AM Current | Bio | Archive

The problem with political action is that it’s hard. You have to get up early, go to meetings, write your representative, find a stamp for the envelope you don’t have for the letter you want to write your representative.… Shouldn’t technology solve this problem, and make it easier to get the political results we want?

Apparently, someone’s been asking that question. My social media feed has supplied me with word of a new application that aims to make political action as easy as sending a text.

The idea is that you text the word “resist” to a number, and after getting a small amount of information (your name, your ZIP code) it will let you set up a letter to fax to your senator. It’s the sort of thing you can do with any spare moment.

It’s a great idea -- at first. It's so great that I suspect it will soon devalue the fax as political currency.

Allow me to explain. There’s a hierarchy of political actions that you can take to impress your legislators with your commitment to an issue. Sending a letter or calling is high on that hierarchy; social media, email and signing Change.org petitions ranks much lower. The new service effectively acts as a political currency converter, allowing individuals to do something easy (text) while appearing to have done something less easy (fax).

There is a reason that more primitive means of communicating with your legislator tend to make them more interested in what you have to say: Those forms of communication cost more of your time, and therefore indicate a level of commitment that might reflect your intentions to donate and vote (for or against the lawmaker in question).

If this service catches on, legislators will quickly begin to ignore faxes roughly the way they would ignore a text campaign.

But what if this text-to-fax service is just the first step? What if other services create unique physical letters, that appear to come from actual voters? How can legislators get high-quality signals about what their voters want? We're entering a world in which it is easier than ever for voters to say something to their legislators, but harder than ever for lawmakers to hear them.

Face-to-face contact is the one signal people can’t fake. If you show up to talk to your legislator, it’s because you took valuable time out of your day.

The hyperlocal party organizations that used to take care of this sort of thing have largely atrophied, of course, in the era of big data and broadcast campaigns. But they could be rejuvenated. And they may have to be, if the quantity of electronic information devalues all currencies except the handshake.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Megan McArdle is a Bloomberg View columnist. She wrote for the Daily Beast, Newsweek, the Atlantic and the Economist and founded the blog Asymmetrical Information. She is the author of "“The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success.”

© Copyright 2017 Bloomberg L.P. All Rights Reserved.

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The problem with political action is that it’s hard.
lawmakers, reach, ignore, politicians
Friday, 24 Mar 2017 07:10 AM
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