By night I may be an insightful blogger, filling your feeds with pleas to action and the next insane rant or horrifying policy coming out of the White House. But by day, I am a mild-mannered professor and social scientist. I like data. It’s fun! So when I first saw the google doc from the Town Hall Project, my interest was piqued. Yes, browsing through is interesting and their map on their new website is fun and super useful. But what can we learn about who and where folks are having events?
This is my first stab at using their data. So, I must provide a few requisite caveats. (For fellow social scientists out there, think of this as a super-crappy Method section.)
- The data are user-generated. I did my best to clean up errors and duplicates or redundancies, but as I do have a normal job, I didn’t spend the requisite time to thoroughly clean the data.
- I did, however, make efforts to clean it. The first step was to filter out redundant events. I wasn’t totally thorough here, but if a Rep had several of the same event, I tried to filter out which ones were redundant, meaning I deleted events if they had the same name and date.
- I also under-counted Office Hours, as these are typically served by staffers and not Representatives. There were also LOTS of these listed for some constituents! Bob Goodlatte had 49 such events. Mike Capuano had 11. Larry Baschon had 17. It’s great to have the staff out and about and I didn’t want to totally discount these, but I also didn’t want to give them undue credit. So I typically kept only one staff-only event per Representative.
Today, I’m also only focusing on the House (N = 438).
What were the events? Most events in the Town Hall Project list are Town Halls (87). There were an additional 56 Mobile Office Hours/Office Hours, though, again, these usually only have staffers. (and I trimmed some of these down). There were 15 tele-town halls (for ultra-control and minimal questions to answer!). Users had also reported 8 so-called empty-chair town halls, when constituents host a town hall, inviting the Representative, but the Rep turns down the invite.
Who and where are the Representatives from? They come from 35/50 states. Those missing include conservative states like Mississippi, Wyoming, and South Dakota to the liberal hamlet of Vermont.
Party affiliation? Although the house is currently about 44% Democrats, of the reported town hall-type events, 53% will be hosted by Democrats. Hmm… That math doesn’t seem to line up… See the table below for a full list of the number of events by state and party affiliation.
What about the people who didn’t host events at all? The Town Hall Project doesn’t track them. (And remember, some times they just announce one super last minute! But that shouldn’t count! Like Sen Toomey who hosted a last minute tele town hall. Boo!)
So, I went ahead and re-shaped the data, then merged on the full list of Representatives from the U.S. House Clerk’s office (super handy excel spreadsheet handy to download there!). Combining these data sources tells me just who is and is not holding an event. Of the 438 members of the house, only 115 have reported events. Of all Republicans, only 22% report hosting a constituent event at some point in the future. Among Democrats, 32% are hosting one. So, once again, Republicans are definitely not getting out and about. If you want the full list of House districts without constituent events, just download this excel file.
I tried to pin down historical trends in down halls, but this isn’t my field and I came up short. These figures I cite here are, though, in line with a Vice story describing over 200 Republicans skipping town halls. I had 189 Republicans in the House skipping, with more clearly coming from the Senate, it’s easy to get to 200. Vice says that in 2015, Republicans in Congress hosted 222 in-person town halls. From what I can discern, this data is messy and tough to interpret, but those estimates seem reasonable.
So what? We have talked about the importance of accountability and town halls over and over. We deserve a voice, whether or not we voted for our MOC. We deserve more than phone calls, post cards, letters, and the occasional chat with a low-level staffer. MOCs need to see and understand how we feel.
Now what? Find a or host a missing-chair town hall. Tape it. Bring in the press. Shame the MOC. Because we matter.
Number and Proportion of Constituent Events by State and Party. (If no events are being hosted by a Representative in that state, then the state is not shown below.)