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Connecting to Congress during Covid-19: Political representation and two-way crisis communication

Michael Neblo, Ohio State University

Tue 25 May 2021

11:00am - 12:00pm

Virtual seminar


As the COVID-19 crisis rapidly escalated in the United States, Congress needed to pivot from its normal representational activities to: 1) find ways to disseminate reliable information regarding the crisis, 2) find ways to gather relevant information about the rapidly evolving needs of their constituents to inform responsive legislation, and 3) encourage compliance with public health measures. We were in the field running experiments with Deliberative Town Halls (DTHs) when the pandemic hit. So we quickly adapted the structure of the standard DTH model to facilitate the kinds of interactions called for by the crisis: whereas pre-COVID-19 DTHs focused on a single issue with a single member of Congress, the COVID-19 events often featured a bipartisan pair of members, participating alongside subject matter experts. This structure vividly communicated bi-partisan messages regarding public health compliance, sent credible signals about the information being provided to constituents of both parties, and reassured them that normal partisan jousting would not interfere with the crafting policy to manage the urgent needs of the crisis. They also allowed members to gather the information necessary to develop policies that would be responsive to needs as articulated by their constituents. They also allowed constituents to express their opinions and feelings on COVID-19 related policies, Congress’s handling of the pandemic, and the personal struggles they had faced as the effects of the pandemic unfolded.

N.B. – 1) This presentation is based on joint work with Abigail Kielty and Amy Lee; 2) the analyses are preliminary and largely descriptive at this point; and 3) I will begin the presentation with a more general overview of the research strategy behind the larger connecting to Congress project.

About the speaker

Michael Neblo is Professor of Political Science and (by courtesy) Philosophy, Communication, and Public Affairs & Director of the Institute for Democratic Engagement and Accountability (IDEA) at The Ohio State University. Neblo's research focuses on deliberative democracy and political psychology. His most recent book, Politics with the People: Building a Directly Representative Democracy develops and tests a new model of politics connecting citizens and elected officials to improve representative government. He has twice been invited to testify before the U.S. Congress about these findings. His first book, Deliberative Democracy between Theory and Practice cuts across the deadlock between supporters of deliberative theory and their empirical critics by focusing on the core goals of the larger deliberative political system. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in a wide range of academic journals across several fields, Neblo holds a PhD in political science from the University of Chicago and a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy and Mathematical Methods in the Social Sciences (MMSS) from Northwestern University. He is currently an Andrew Carnegie Fellow.

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