Lawmakers’ Shift to Constituent Services: Good Politics But Bad Policy

With their ability to legislate stunted by seemingly intractable partisan divisions, many lawmakers are seeking new ways to represent their constituents.

According to the National Journal, “dozens of freshman lawmakers have shifted resources out of the nation’s capital, swapping policy staffers for constituent-facing district office workers who have a better chance of affecting voters than any of their colleagues in Washington.”

“Indeed, at the start of 2014, 46 percent of all House members’ staffers now operate outside the capital [and] 52 percent of [freshman lawmakers’] staff members work back in the district.”

“That means a historically large share of staff aides are dedicated to constituent services, helping district residents navigate federal bureaucracy—stuff like getting new passports, recovering wrongly denied government benefits, advocating in a dispute with the IRS, or contacting endangered family members abroad.”

A decline in substantive legislative activity may not be good policy, but the shift toward the “boots-on-the-ground” focus of constituent services has been politically popular:

“Polling has consistently shown that people are happier with their own representatives than with Congress as a whole, a trend that has held even during the latest public-opinion swoon.”

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