Politicians Are Too Swayed By 'The Multiplier Effect.' Here's My Solution.

Be heard, directly.

In 2013, I was a college freshman and roommates with my friend Jacob Dansey. We shared a particular frustration that nagged us. The frustration was simple: "Why don't our government representatives ask us what we think about issues that affect us?"

We were part of the problem too — we had no idea who represented us. In fact, 47 percent of American adults don't know the political party of their representative in Congress. If I don't even know my representatives, how could they be doing their job in representing me? Communication, we knew, was key.


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Courtesy Involved

This inspired us to build the bridge we call Involved, a civic engagement software for government and advocacy organizations. Soon we discovered just how outdated current communication methods are. Visit your next local town hall meeting and ask yourself, "Is this a representative sample of my community?"

While Jacob, John (fellow co-founder) and I built our bridge, we learned about the multiplier effect. A state representative's staffer explained it to me: "The multiplier effect is when we hear from 10 people, via a phone call, town hall, or email, and we then assume that 1,000 people have shared their opinion."

The multiplier effect is so influential in government offices because it's often necessary.

Here's why:

— In most major cities, fewer than 15 percent of people vote in local elections.

— Our friend, the state representative staffer, can reach only about 1.5 percent of their constituents via email list. 

People are not being reached effectively. In a district of 40,000 people, it takes 4 weeks of canvassing to gather a survey of 400 constituent opinions — who make up just 1 percent of the district.

Here's the reality: we want our opinion to matter. Currently, our representatives are making decisions based on opinions of a minute portion of the population. The inefficiencies are clear: a handful of people can show up for Town Hall, emails reach a tiny fraction of a constituency, and surveying takes a month.

The problem is that we have become assumptions in the multiplier effect. Tweets, hashtags, and Facebook comments are important — but the people making decisions about the law aren't keeping track of retweets.

Let's be accountable for our opinions by marching, calling, voting, and using technology to communicate directly. 49 percent of American Facebook users post politically-related content to their friends, but only 55 percent of the voting population voted in 2016. In fact, the US ranks 28th out of 35 among OECD countries in voting turnout. There's no denying the communication gap in our democratic system. We may not be the problem, but we are certainly part of the solution. Be heard, directly — don't be an assumption of the multiplier effect.

Caleb McDermott is a co-founder of Involved, a recent graduate of Boston University Questrom School of Business, and a musician. He's also the founder of the Colleen Foundation. To invite your representative to get Involved, visit the Involved website.

Cover images via: Juli Hansen / Shutterstock.com, Evan El-Amin / Shutterstock.com, Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com.

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