The Demand for Listening
Over many years, numerous researchers at Pew, Stanford, the University of Maryland, and other organizations, have dug deeply into the question of why American voters are dissatisfied with Congress, what new approaches will effectively speak to what voters really want, and how candidates and Members can utilize them to build trust with constituents.
Most Americans say that elected officials:
- have little interest in the views of their constituents (73%)
- are less responsive to the people than they should be (82%) and less than the Founders intended (80%)
- primarily serve special interests over the common good of the people (91%)
- make decisions aligned with the views of the people only about 1/3 of the time
So, what do they want? They want representatives who will listen to the people they represent and take their views into account when voting.
83% of voters believe that there is not currently an adequate system in place for the voice of the American people to be heard in Congress.
Nine-in-ten voters said that if Members of Congress were more influenced by “the people” they would be more likely to find common ground and serve the common good.
Contrary to the view that Americans are overwhelmingly partisan, three in four said that Members of Congress should be more “responsive” to the views of “all their constituents as a whole ”rather than the views of “the people who voted for them.”
The Ohio State University has found participation in public consultation and deliberative forums with elected officials produce many positive impacts for citizens, such as increased public participation, knowledge gains about policy, and improvements in trust in government. Constituents with lower trust in Congress have been found to be more likely to want to participate in public consultations and deliberations, because they want to engage in new and impactful ways.
The large majority of Americans believe that consulting with a representative sample of constituents in a deliberative format should be a regular part of the policymaking process and is valuable for the future of our democracy.
In the lead up to the 2022 elections, Voice of the People Action asked the question:
What is the impact of Congressional candidates making the Listen to the People Pledge on voters?
Taking advantage of the opportunity to hear from citizens during the heat of campaign season, we fielded a survey in four battleground states and eight battleground districts between October 14th and November 7th to determine if the Listen to the People Pledge would impact voting decisions in the 2022 midterms.
With a sample of 3,263 Registered Voters provided by Precision Sample, we separately presented respondents with the names of the Republican and Democratic candidates in their upcoming US Senate or House election. Then, we asked them how likely it is that they would vote for each individual candidate on an 11 point scale.
Then, citizens were asked to imagine that one of their US Senate or House Candidates made a pledge to:
- Take into account the views of my constituents as a whole, before casting votes
- Consider available surveys with representative samples of my constituents on their policy views conducted by credible survey researchers
Initially, Independent, Republican, and Democratic voters similarly viewed candidates from both parties taking the pledge as overwhelmingly positive. Americans feel especially positive about candidates from their own party making the Listen to the People Pledge.
The sample was told to imagine that each candidate made the pledge, while their opponent did not, and then, they were asked how likely it is that they would vote for the pledged candidate over their opponent, using the same 11 point scale.
After aggregating responses across our battleground states and districts, the survey findings demonstrate the powerful impact of the Listen to the People Pledge.Our new research from the final weeks of the 2022 campaign shows that 8% – 10% of voters would have likely changed their support to a given candidate if they had taken the Listen to the People pledge – some even crossing party lines to so. The response to the pledge was particularly strong among independents, with 13% shifting towards the pledged Republican candidate and 18% shifting to the pledged Democratic candidate.
The Listen to the People Pledge generally moved voters positively even if they did not switch their vote. The new study compared the net shift to and away from the pledged candidate and found 21% – 24% more of the sample moved towards voting for the pledged candidate.
Every demographic, racial, and partisan group moved towards candidates who made The Listen to the People Pledge. The important voting groups that were most positively impacted by the pledge were:
- Vote for both parties equally (+17% movement into likely for pledged candidate)
- Young People, aged 18-29 (+15% movement into likely for pledged candidate)
- Disaffected voters not very or not at all likely to vote in 2022 midterms (+14% movement into likely for pledged candidate)
While our survey focused on understanding impact at the macro level of electoral outcomes, we also wanted to understand how voters would think about candidates taking The Listen to the People Pledge. So, we hosted two focus groups before election day comprised of a diverse group of voters from battleground states, and discovered a widespread lack in trust in Congress because of a belief that elected officials were not responsive to the will of the people.
Throughout the conversations, voters from various backgrounds and political beliefs viewed public consultation as an important way to provide policymakers with more information about what their constituents want, and many believed that the American people, through public consultations, could help officials find common ground and solve real world problems.
Building off of innovative in-depth studies conducted by the University of Maryland and Ohio State University, our new research provides strong evidence for politicians to engage in public consultation as a way to build public trust with their constituents. Dissatisfaction with Congress is rooted in the American people believing that the government does not listen to them or work for them, but the Listen to the People Pledge is an exciting new way to show voters that you want to make sure our democracy acts in their interest.