Citizen Email Overwhelms US Congress



E-mail Overload in Congress: Managing a Communications Crisis
Congress Online Project, Congressional Management Foundation


The Congressional Management Foundation report in 2001 provides a measurable glimpse into how internet-based communications has fundamentally changed how citizens interact with their elected representatives.

Significantly, it highights how email was creating major problems in terms of representatives being able to respond effectively and quickly to citizens' issues and concerns.

The report found the quantity of emails to Congressional House representatives numbered in the few dozen a week until the late 1990s, while Senate members received several hundred.

Yet by 2001, individual House members were receiving as many as 8,000 email messages a month, with Senate offices receiving as many as 55,000. Overall, number of emails to Congress representatives overall was increasing by 1 million a month.

For elected representatives, the email torrent from citizens was tantamount to jamming the gears of Congress.

According to the Congressional Management Foundation Report, ‘the burdens on staff (as a result of the ongoing email deluge) are viewed as unmanageable’.

'Until now, rather than enhancing democracy – as so many hoped – e-mail has heightened tensions and public disgruntlement with Congress,' the report concluded.

The same trends have been reported in the British Parliament where the volume of external emails to and from Parliament, grew five times to over 2 million in the space of six years until 2006. Over the same period, internal email quadrupled.

While studies such as these are few and far between, the volume of internet-based correspondence and representations from studies is likely to increase rapidly as a result of the advent of social media, compounding the difficulty of elected representatives in responding to their constituents in a timely and effective way.

A survey by the Pew Research Institute found significant growth in political activity on social media and networking sites in the United States between 2008 and 2012. The number of social networking site users doubled over that time, with nearly 40 per cent of Americans using social media to express their political opinions.

Most of this growth is occurring among younger generations who see social media as the prime vehicle to express their political voice.


Thumbnail image: Robert Couse-Baker/Flickr

Published Date
March 19, 2001