Carl Hulse at The New York Times:
“There is strong evidence that [lawmakers] actually don’t even know the views of their constituents,” said Steven Kull, a psychologist who heads the Program for Public Consultation at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy. “They might know the squeaky wheel who shows up at a town hall meeting, but they don’t really know.” In a new study based on a survey of more than 4,300 registered voters last year, Mr. Kull’s group found that the public’s low opinion of Congress stems at least in part from the impression that lawmakers “have little interest in the views of their constituents, have a poor understanding of the public’s views and do what the majority of Americans would do less than half the time.” The study, titled The Demand for Public Consultation, found that voters are clamoring for lawmakers to pay more attention but do not see a reliable, consistent way to provide regular guidance to their representatives. The process right now is there is no process,” said Gail Hoffman, a consultant to the organization and longtime Washington strategist. “It is just really wild in that it is random who they hear from, and it’s generally organized and often the same people.”
To try to correct that flaw, the Program for Public Consultation, in cooperation with other nonpartisan civic groups and news organizations that publicize the efforts and provide meeting space, has been experimenting with a more structured approach. In simulations conducted with House members from both parties, representative samples of citizens are solicited and given extensive information on a topic such as immigration or campaign finance and then meet with lawmakers to discuss solutions. The effort also includes a broader poll to assess sentiment in the member’s particular district. Participants said it was striking, particularly in an era of intense congressional polarization and rampant misinformation, how much agreement they could find on issues that have bedeviled Congress for years.