If you have ever wanted to take a position on a particular piece of legislation and take action to persuade the decision making of Congress but felt you did not have any hope of doing so, it is important to understand how legislators are influenced. The decision making of any legislator is primarily dominated by their constituents. With that said, just as it is important for anyone to consult a variety of resources before making an important decision, members of Congress follow the same pattern. They often consult family as well as friends, people they work with and subject matter experts.
photo credit: Michael Cory
Legislators are like the rest of us. Their family and friends have their ear when it comes time to make a difficult decision. Legislators tend to speak with the people they trust the most and this includes their family and friends.
Acquaintances with more than a passing interest on a matter can also influence members of Congress. Legislators tend to know a lot of people. If an acquaintance has knowledge of a particular topic they can provide a lot of influence. Legislators also tend to pay attention to colleagues they respect. In many cases, legislators may actually seek out guidance from experts who have studied an issue and who bring their own perspective to the debate. This is particularly true of other members of Congress. Junior members of Congress may choose to sit back and wait to see how senior members are going to vote before determining their own position on an issue.
Legislative leaders can also exert quite a bit of pressure on fellow legislators. There is definitely a hierarchy within Congress and members of the House of Representatives tend to be far more susceptible to influence than senators simply because House rules make it possible for leadership to establish the agenda.
What about lobbyists? How much influence do lobbyists actually exert over members of Congress? The common perception by the public is that it is quite a bit. The truth of the matter is that lobbyists only rarely determine policy outcomes. Organized citizens are more often responsible for determining policy outcomes.
If you have ever thought that you did not have a chance of making an impact, think again. It takes motivation and organization, but it is possible.
Reference: Citizen’s Handbook, by Bradford Fitch, Chapter 4 People Who Can Influence Legislators.
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