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Is Authoritarianism related to Open Communication in the U.S. Congress?

Last night, a visitor to Irregular Times named Luke made an interesting conjecture:

As a side-note, I am curious about the level of email openness in our Congressmen, if progressive, forward thinking congress critters are easier to contact than conservative, old fashioned ones. I have usually noticed that Republican elected officials either have no email option at all or make it so the user can only choose from a select range of topics.

Luke raises an interesting question, and there are intuitive reasons to suspect that political ideology is related to the style of congressional interaction with constituents. You might think that members of Congress holding the right-wing notions of respect for power and obedience to authority would be less interested as authority figures in feedback from constituents. You might think that anti-authoritarians in Congress who insist on individual civil liberties would be more interested in listening to dissenting voices.

As a quick test of this hypothesis, I’ve reviewed the congressional websites of the ten members of the House of Representatives with the best record of supporting civil liberties in the 111th Congress, and compared them to the ten members of the House with the worst civil liberties record for the same period. Each and every one of these twenty members of Congress prominently lists phone numbers for offices in Washington, DC and in his or her home district. Regardless of ideology, each and every member also maintains a web form from which constituents may easily send messages to their representative. Luke’s hypothesis, although thoughtful, isn’t borne out empirically.

The way in which these twenty members of Congress arrange and describe constituent communications doesn’t seem to be related to political ideology either. Although the authoritarian Representatives Marsha Blackburn and John Boehner won’t even let visitors access a contact form until they pass a Zip+4 postal code test to prove that they are actual constituents, civil libertarian Representatives Donna Edwards and Yvette Clarke do the same. Authoritarian Louie Gohmert is matched by civil libertarian Peter DeFazio in rejecting comments from outside his district. Civil libertarians Elijah Cummings and Keith Ellison welcome comments from outside their districts, while authoritarian Republicans Todd Akin, Michele Bachmann and Steve King make no restrictive statements whatsoever about who has the privilege to contact them.

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