How to Write to a Politician
Elected representatives want to hear from constituents; good politicians know how important it is to hear from the public about the issues affecting them. But while you'll usually find a receptive ear, the way you contact your representative does matter. If you want to create positive change, there are better ways to communicate with your representatives than others. Here are some tips.
First Things First
Don't forget to include your name, address, and the best way to respond to your letter, email, voicemail, or other inquiry. If you write a respectful, informed, and sincere letter, you can expect to get a response from the elected official's office. Make sure to identify yourself as a constituent. For example, if you are writing to a state representative of a district you do not live in, it is not likely that you will receive a reply.
Control Anger and Remain Civil
Politics, whether local or national, involve matters of great importance. Everyone gets angry about politics, particularly about the issues that affect you personally. We don't need to hide our emotions or passions about a particular subject. However, when seeking something from an elected official, it helps to channel that anger into something positive. For example, transforming that anger into action by getting others on board with your position.
People naturally get defensive when faced with someone who is angry or aggressive. It's also harder to make a clear argument when you feel overwhelmingly mad about something. Take the time to be as clear and objective as possible when contacting your representative. Again, you don't need to hide your feelings (genuine emotion can be persuasive), but you do need to be able to stay focused on the message you are trying to convey.
Finally, avoid personal attacks or name-calling. Name-calling can work to persuade others to view that person in a negative light, which is why politicians label their opponents with such regularity. But it isn't a good way to persuade the person you are speaking or writing to.
You might have a number of general concerns. Maybe you want to protect the environment, have greater religious freedom, improve public safety, or prevent a social injustice. We all have particular issues we care about. But when bringing about political change, it's important to focus on the details. How can your representative help bring about change? Is there a law you want passed or defeated? Cite the bill or proposed legislation by name.
Have a clear objective about what you want when writing a letter or speaking at a town hall meeting. As just one example, do you want stricter gun control laws? What is it you think will help? Talk about background checks or the type of guns you want better regulations on. Conversely, are you concerned about your Second Amendment rights? What specific gun regulations or proposals do you think infringe on those rights? It's a lot easier for a politician to get support to pass, repeal, or vote no on a specific, narrow law than to bring about some massive change in policy.
Use Well-Researched Facts to Support Your Position
There are a lot of legitimate resources you can use to research a variety of issues. There's also, unfortunately, a lot of stuff online that is misleading, hyperbolic, or just plain false.
Before you contact your representative, do some digging. If you are contacting your representative about a new proposed law, for example, take some time to understand what's in the bill. To be truly effective, you need to do more research than the short summaries given in news programs. Get context from more than one news outlet, including from news outlets that have opposing views from yours. After all, if you are calling for your representative to break with their political party, they will already know the other side's views and arguments. By understanding the opposing side you can more effectively counter those arguments.
Talk About the Benefits
There are many reasons to get into politics. At the end of the day, however, politicians need votes to stay in office and typically want to accomplish something of note while they can. How is what you're seeking beneficial to the politician you are contacting? Is there a lot of public support? Is what you're asking going to improve or even save lives? Will it bring about a lasting positive change in your community? All of the above will sound extremely tempting to a politician. If you can convince your elected representative you have public support and can enact real positive change, you've likely gone a long way toward convincing them.
There are always tradeoffs in politics. Think about and address any potential obstacles or concerns. For every new law or policy enacted, there are going to be people who feel like it negatively impacts them. Address and minimize these things up front; it shows that you fully understand the issue.
While it's important to maintain civility, that doesn't mean it should be dispassionate. Tell your story. Facts and statistics are important tools in persuasive writing, but a personal story is more memorable and emotionally affecting. Are you trying to help yourself, your family, or your community overcome hardship? Make sure to relate those hardships. There's a reason politicians tell the personal stories of their constituents when giving speeches, in debates, and when campaigning — they are effective.
Also, provide details about why you're writing. Why does this matter to you? What personal or professional experience should your elected representative take into account when considering your position? These details make you more memorable, authentic, and convincing.
Go Beyond a Form Letter or Petition
At some point, you've almost certainly been approached about signing your name to a petition or a form letter to send to your elected representative. There's nothing wrong with doing so if it's a position you support. However, if you want to get the attention of your elected representative, you have a better chance of doing so if you write a personal letter or email.
Particularly for national offices, elected representatives have a lot of demands on their time, and they have a lot of constituents they are hearing from. Another form letter is easily dismissed. It's harder to dismiss the information provided from someone who states who they are, why they have knowledge of the issue, and what personal experience and knowledge they have.
Have Realistic Expectations
Whether you are writing over a hot-button political issue, a proposed law, or to raise awareness about an issue you feel isn't getting enough attention, write with realistic expectations. A politician is unlikely to completely change their mind about an established political position they campaigned on, for example. But is there a way to find common ground? Is there one part of a larger issue where progress can be made?
If you're bringing awareness to an issue, know at the outset it takes time to build support. You may need to write multiple letters, meet with interested parties, and generate public support.
Don't Give Up
While realism is good, it's less helpful if that realism devolves into cynicism. You may think that a politician will not care what you have to say, or that the system is too broken to allow your voice to be heard. Yet, with persistence and persuasion, everyday people do accomplish things at the federal, state, and local levels. Bring your passion for the issue to bear and write the most persuasive letter you can. If it doesn't work, try writing again or writing to a different politician. Try local officials instead of state or national, for example.
The important thing is to try.