How long has it been since you said, “they just don’t listen to us?”
By “they,” you mean politicians, of course. Maybe you feel they listen to lobbyists and big corporations and banksters, but they don’t listen to their constituents.
I have to agree with you. Politicians don’t listen to their constituents. They don’t even know who their constituents are.
They know demographics and statistics about their constituents, but that’s like saying you know how a banana tastes because you read a chemical assay report of its contents.
Politicians do know their lobbyists. That’s because (a) there are fewer lobbyists to know, and (b) the lobbyists show up at their doorstep with a smile.
To keep things simple, politicians use shortcuts. We all do. They use a few, trusted people as sounding boards. They get talking points from someone they trust. And they do what they think is best for themselves and (usually) for the country and their district or state.
With that in mind, here are five secrets of influencing a politician that politicians don’t want you to know.
1. Phone calls and office visits really do work. When you call or visit a politician’s office, you’re acting like a lobbyist. You’re taking the time to show up. You’re meeting the politician on his turf, not yours. That’s a sign of respect, not for the politician as politician, but for the person with a busy schedule and a lot of demands. Showing up too often might turn off the politician, but showing up at the right time sends a signal that your representative can’t ignore. But you have to be polite and respectful. Screaming idiots are, well, screaming idiots.
2. Online petitions and boilerplate emails go straight into the circular file. The purpose of these tools is not to influence politicians but to keep people engaged. Why do you think Obama’s White House promises to “respond” to petitions with 100,000 signatures? Because it’s easy for them. “Respond,” isn’t much of a promise. They’re for you and your psychological benefit, but they don’t change anyone’s beliefs, attitudes, or behaviors. Sign them if it makes you happy, but don’t expect online petitions or boilerplate emails to drive any change.
3. People can handle only about 150 relationships with other people. It’s called the Dunbar Number, and it’s pretty much fixed by an individual’s memory capacity. That means your Representative, Senator, County Councilman, or whoever can only really know 150 people. Lobbyists understand this and work really hard to be one of them. To have real influence, you need to win one of the coveted speed dial spots, too. Here’s a strategy for getting on a politician’s speed dial.
4. Politicians make mistakes. This is important to remember, because politicians don’t like to admit mistakes. They’ll admit to meaningless mistakes that don’t matter–affairs, drinking, drug use, taking a lot of time off–but they hide mistakes that count–voting for a terrible bill, trading votes for favors, rationalizing a vote that contradicts their own principles. Like everyone else, politicians use the meaningless apologies as distractions to hide their real failings as representatives. If you refuse to engage in the unimportant distractions, you’ll have an easier time keeping them focused on the things that matter.
5. Politicians really want to be liked. We all want to be liked, except for some sociopaths. Being liked means having allies when the feces hits the rotating air circulators. When I started meeting a lot of politicians after the Tea Party thing took off, the first thing I noticed is they hate confrontation and disagreement. They really like being liked, and most of them are damn good at being likable. Go ahead and like them. They’re people. They’re usually fun and interesting people with fascinating stories to tell. Listen carefully and ask them to tell you more. People so often want to jawbone politicians, when someone listens to them as human beings, that listener gets on the fast track to the speed dial.