Does contacting one’s legislator influence public policy? We answer this question with a field experiment in which Michigan state legislators are randomly assigned to be contacted by their constituents about a specific bill. The field experimental design allows us to produce internally and externally valid estimates of the influence of constituent contacts on legislative voting. The estimated effect is substantial: being contacted by constituents increases the probability of supporting the relevant legislation by about 12 percentage points.
From a working paper by Daniel Bergan and Richard Cole. It follows up on my earlier post and DL’s comment here, which links to a previous experiment that Dan conducted (and that I failed to remember!).
And while we’re on this subject, here’s another relevant piece by Daniel Butler, Christopher Karpowitz, and Jeremy Pope:
We conducted a field experiment involving roughly 1,000 letters sent by actual individuals to nearly 500 different legislative offices in order to test whether legislative offices prioritize service over policy in their home style. We find strong evidence that both state and federal legislative offices are more responsive to service requests than they are to policy requests. This pattern is consistent with the desire of legislators to gain leeway with their constituents in order to pursue their own policy goals. We also find that at the federal level Democrats prioritize service over policy more than Republicans and at the state level legislators who won by larger margins are more likely to prioritize service over policy. Finally, our results suggest that the decision to prioritize service occurs in how the office is structured. Among other things this suggests that legislators may be micro-targeting less than is often supposed.
And this by Daniel Butler and David Nickerson:
When legislators are uninformed about public opinion, does learning constituents’ opinion affect how legislators vote? We conducted a fully randomized field experiment to answer this question. We surveyed 10,690 New Mexicans about the Governor’s spending proposals for a special summer session held in the summer of 2008. District-specific survey results were then shared with a randomly selected half of the legislature. The legislators receiving their district-specific survey results were much more likely to vote in line with constituent opinion than those who did not. Our results suggest that legislators want to be more responsive to public opinion than they are in their natural state and can be if given solid information about constituent beliefs.