Online Town Hall Meetings. Exploring Democracy in the 21st Century
Work data:ISBN: 1-930473-12-5
Type of work: Report
- The online town halls increased constituents’ approval of the Member. Every Member involved experienced an increase in approval by the constituents who participated. The average net approval rating (approve minus disapprove) jumped from +29 before the session to +47 after. There were also similar increases in trust and perceptions of personal qualities – such as whether they were compassionate, hardworking, accessible, etc. – of the Member.
- The online town halls increased constituents’ approval of the Member’s position on the issue discussed. Constituents’ approval of their Member’s position on immigration (the issue discussed in most of the sessions) jumped from 20% to 58%. There were also large shifts in participants’ positions on the issue toward the position of the Member, as well as significant increases in their policy knowledge of the issue.
- The town halls attracted a diverse array of constituents. These sessions were more likely than traditional venues to attract people from demographics not traditionally engaged in politics and people frustrated with the political system. Of the seven demographic characteristics that traditionally predict participation in partisan and activist politics, six had the opposite effect for participation in the online town halls (only level of education had the same effect).
- The town halls increased engagement in politics. Participants in the sessions were more likely to vote and were dramatically more likely to follow the election and to attempt to persuade other citizens how to vote.
- The town halls increased the probability of voting for the Member. The probability of voting for the Member was 49% for control subjects and 56% for people who participated in a session with their Member. The impact was particularly dramatic for swing voters, where a person with a 50% probability of voting for the Member in the control condition was 73% more likely to do so if he or she participated in the town hall.
- The discussions in the town halls were of high quality. By standard measures of deliberative quality (quality of information, use of accurate facts to support arguments, respect for alternative points of view, perceptions of participants) the discussions in these sessions were of quite high quality.
- The sessions were extremely popular with constituents. A remarkable 95% of participants stated that they would like to participate in similar events in the future.
- The positive results were seen even in a larger session. Most of the sessions were conducted by Representatives with small groups of 15-25 constituents. To test the scalability, we conducted one session with a Senator and nearly 200 constituents. We saw the same positive results in this session as those described above.