Cygnal Poll: Legislators’ Jobs Turned Upside Down by COVID-19, Polling & Technology Prove Invaluable for Advocacy Outreach

WASHINGTON D.C. – A survey of 325 state lawmakers and staff, conducted by the national survey research and polling firm Cygnal, shows that COVID-19 has had a big impact on the business of legislating. Despite the pandemic, however, the best way to capture a legislator’s attention is still through their constituents. 

The nationwide Cygnal survey was conducted January 12 – 26, with 320 state lawmakers and five staffers in in partnership with KnowWho – a Phone2Action company.

“With how rare in-person meetings have become, lawmakers are relying on polling more than ever to find out what their constituents are thinking,” said Brent Buchanan, Cygnal’s CEO and founder. “While email, phone calls, and texts are the best way for constituents to directly reach their representatives, polls provide lawmakers a window into the thinking of a larger swath of the public—including people who won’t take the time to reach out in the middle of a pandemic.”

State legislators rank constituents’ opinions far above any other group when making policy decisions. More than two-thirds of lawmakers are more likely to change their opinion on a bill based on polling data that shows their constituents’ opinions. Legislators also view trade associations, chambers of commerce, grassroots activists, and coalitions as credible and valuable sources of information.

The decrease in face-to-face meetings is why 75% of state lawmakers say their reliance on social media, text messaging, video calls, and the like has increased during the pandemic. This session, email is by far their most preferred mode of communication (87%) with phone calls to their cell phone (49%) or office (40%) and text messages (42%) close behind. 

Inundated with virtual contacts, legislators say they are most impressed with outreach that is concise, personalized, and constituent-focused.

“Targeted and personalized outreach that uses technology wisely may be the difference between success and failure this legislative session,” said Bruce Brownson, President and CEO of KnowWho. “Advocates who are quick to adapt to this new normal are the ones who are going to see their legislation moving this year.”

“Advocates need to think about outreach differently now,” continued Buchanan. “Polls and constituent-based contact have never been more critical. One lawmaker spelled it out, saying that advocacy groups should ‘provide polling data from constituent groups’ if they want to make an impact.”

The survey shows that legislators are split—mostly along party lines—on whether they’re more concerned about the economic or health impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Republicans are concerned about the economy while Democrats are focused on public health. Nearly three-fourths of lawmakers believe the CARES Act and other national COVID relief legislation has been effective when it comes to helping their state.

This advanced multi-mode survey was conducted on January 12 – 26, with 325 state legislators and staffers. Interviews were conducted using live agents calling cell phones and landlines and an online sample was acquired via SMS and email invitations sent to known state legislators. Contact information for every state legislator in the country was provided by KnowWho, a Phone2Action company.

The toplines and presentation can be found below. You can download the crosstabs here by right-clicking the link.