A new survey of legislative aides found that Florida Politics was the most read news outlet among state lawmakers and Sunburn reigned supreme among email newsletters. But CATECOMM’s 2018 Florida Legislative Study had several other findings of import, especially for those who are looking to sway some lawmakers during the 2019 Legislative Session.
A major chunk of the survey dealt with how lawmakers use social media. The major platforms are important tools for most elected officials and, outside of pacing the Capitol, it’s likely the easiest way to get in touch with a lawmaker. But there’s is a clear pecking order among the major platforms.
Facebook carries the most weight, with 95 percent of aides saying the social network was either “important” or “somewhat important.” Twitter was just behind, also scoring a 90-plus.
The rest of the pack — YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat — are only of consequence in less than a third of offices in the Capitol complex. The same social media stratification played out in how lawmakers get views from their constituents.
Whether or not lawmakers take the reins on their own social media accounts is a coin flip. About a third have an iron grip on their social media, while 30 percent manage their online presence sometimes and 26 percent do so only rarely. The remainder, about 10 percent, never bother to log in.
Those looking to ante up some cash to get a lawmaker’s attention have a plethora of options, but legislative aides say only a handful of them will turn heads.
Public polling of constituents was the leader by a mile. More than half of aides said polling data would be “somewhat likely” to influence legislators and another third asserting it would be “very likely.” Private polls hit the same 52-percent mark, though only 15 percent of aides said that was a surefire bet.
Among the other worthwhile options are direct mail ads, which earned a combined 60 percent between “somewhat” and “very” options.
Most other methods are wastes of cash. In-district radio and TV ads, as well as paid twitter and Facebook posts, all came in under the Mendoza line. Tallahassee TV ads were a definite no-go, with only 3 percent of aides giving them any chance of making an impact.
Rather than hitting the airwaves, getting constituents to show up in person seems to be the strategy, which is sure to provide comfort for those with an idealistic view of lawmakers’ job description — 100 percent of aides said such meetings were at least somewhat likely to influence an elected official, so long as they don’t have a firm opinion on the topic at hand.
Local coverage on TV or in the paper can also grab members’ attention, as can emails and snail mail to a lesser extent.
When asked who the key players are in the lawmaking process, citizens were the clear No. 1. Call them biased, but Legislative staffers took second place, and few who know how the sausage is made would attempt to refute that.
The Governor, business groups, reporters and lobbyists made up the second tier, each showing up in the mid-80s when the “somewhat important” and “very important” tick marks were combined.
The survey closed out with a short-answer section for aides to advise citizens on how they can lobby their lawmaker. The prevailing theme mirroring the familiar adage “you must be present to win.”
Several aides harped on the importance of showing up in person. Those who shelve the form emails, ditched the canned talking points and check their anger at the door could be surprised by the results.
CATECOMM started surveying legislative aides in 2013 to gauge effective ways to communicate with lawmakers.
The 2018 edition of the anonymous survey was completed by 61 state legislative aides, 33 of whom self-identified as working in the Florida Senate and 28 who said they worked in the Florida House. Thirty-eight respondents said they were Republicans, with the remainder identifying as Democrats.