‘Donors’ vs. ‘constituents’ in an experimental foot-in-door contest

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Does being a political donor get your foot in the door with members of Congress? Well, of course. But does it give you a direct advantage over non-donor constituents? According to new study that used an experimental design to compare levels of success in attaining a meeting, donor status matters.

Joshua Kalla at Yale University and David Brockman at UCLA systematically requested meetings with the 191 Democratic members of Congress during the summer of 2013. 

These meeting requests were identical to one another, with one exception.  Every meeting request letter stated that members of CREDO Action, a liberal advocacy group, would like 30 minutes with the member in person or by phone. To half of the offices, the meeting request stated that these members were “active political donors”; and to the other half of the offices, members were described instead as ” concerned constituents.”

Which group of letters do you think got the more favorable response from Congressional offices? 

Let’s have this chart do the talking.

Donors vs. constituents

It shows that requests from “donors” resulted in significantly more meetings with Congressional members or their chiefs of staff. Comparatively, “constituents” had their meeting requests rejected more often, or “punted to lower-ranking aides.” 

Donations may or may not influence how lawmakers respond to these meetings… but if the first step to success is getting in the door, donors have the clear advantage.

Even if — and here’s the kicker — they donated just $1 to a PAC. At least in this experiment, meeting requests did not elaborate on the frequency, amount, or nature of alleged donations. Nevertheless, the offices of these 191 Democratic members responded with substantially more favor to the ask.

Moral of the story: when requesting meetings, say you’re with a donor.


Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.