Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Heard on the Hill: A Comparative Study of Competing Communicative Influences in Congressional Decision Making
by Connelly, Chris , Ph.D., Regent University, 2020, 235; 27832624
Abstract (Summary)

Constituent communication is a highly valued process where elected officials are petitioned by those who elect them to serve. This process, which ranges from hard mail to various forms of digital and interpersonal communication, serves as a conduit of opinion between the constituent and member of Congress, providing the elected official insight on where individuals stand on various issues. The effectiveness of constituent communication and the role it plays in congressional decision making, however, is not entirely clear.

Members of Congress feel they listen to their constituents, yet constituent communication is one of many competing points of influence that elected officials take into consideration when making policy decisions. This comparative analysis seeks to identify the role constituent communication plays in congressional decision making. Through in-depth interviews with members of Congress and senior staff, personal observation, and the study of documents related to this process, this qualitative study analyzes the role constituent communication plays among the other competing voices of influence, specifically money and lobbying, Congressional leadership, the media, the political base of the elected official and the member’s personal conviction. The study approaches this topic through the lens of David Easton’s Political Systems Model, focusing on the mechanics of Congress to provide a framework within which we can understand constituent communication and decision making in a Washington, DC, context.

Studies on the impact of voter opinion in elections have been studied along-side research analyzing the use of congressional communication to inform and sway specific constituent bases. However, there exists an apparent gap in research as it pertains to the inner workings of Congress and the influence of constituent opinion in decision making. This study attempts to bridge this apparent gap.

The results of this study suggest that while constituent communication is solicited and highly valued, its influence varies among these influences, with the impact of the member’s political base playing the most significant role within the decision-making process. Driven by the need for sustainability within the political system, these findings further validate the premise of Easton’s Political Systems Model, which further informs this study.

These findings invite future research opportunities analyzing how constituent communication can effectively compete with the impact of the political party base, which yields a high level of influence disproportionate to its size and scope within the congressional district due to gerrymandering of political boundaries.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Perry, Stephen
Commitee: Brown, William, King, Stephen
School: Regent University
Department: School of Communication & the Arts
School Location: United States -- Virginia
Source: DAI-A 81/10(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Communication, Political science, American studies
Keywords: Congress, Congressional decision making, Constituent communication, David Easton’s Political Systems Model, Political communication
Publication Number: 27832624
ISBN: 9798607310332
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