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Good Question: Does Calling Your Congressman Help?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- We hear it at the end of political issue ad commercials: "Call your congressman." President Barack Obama told the nation in a primetime address Monday night, "I'm asking you to make your voice heard." So, does calling your congressman make a difference?

The President's call to action got results: "If you want a balanced approach to reducing the deficit, let your member of congress know," he said.

By 2:30 p.m., U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum's (D-St. Paul) office had received 650 emails and phone calls, according to the congresswoman.

"The phone calls I received said they wanted a fair and balanced approach towards handling nation's debt, and they want the deficit issue put to bed so we can focus on getting people back to work," said the congresswoman from Washington.

Congress got so many calls, people had a hard time getting through the main switchboard. We got busy signals when we called Rep. Tim Walz, Colin Peterson, Keith Ellison, Michele Bachmann and Betty McCollum. We got through to Rep. Chip Cravaak and Eric Paulson.

"If they can call on this issue, then we can begin to develop a dialogue on other issues," said McCollum, "I want them to call me, to email me, to write me. I want to have contact."

However, when it comes down to changing her core policy positions on an issue like the debt ceiling, McCollum acknowledged that constituent feedback didn't generally make that happen.

"A core belief and a set of values is something I run and campaign on," she said.

However, personal stories from constituents can shade her views, she said.

"In lots of legislation, there are nuances and different ways to solve a problem," she said.

"Bottom line, I work for my constituents," she said, pointing out the value of a phone call or email when it comes to cutting through the red tape and bureaucracy of the federal government. Constituent services are a key part of every congressional office.

However, when it comes to the really polarizing political issues of our time, "It's really hard to change someone's mind," said Blois Olson, author of the Morning Take newsletter and political analyst on WCCO-AM. "It's much easier on an obscure issue," he said.

At many congressional offices, the staff prepares a daily report, tracking the phone calls, emails, letters and faxes, tracking where people fall on issues.

"You have a much better chance of having your call get through to the staffer working on that issue area if you tell your personal story," said Olson.

Olson pointed out that many calls and emails are scripted by advocacy groups, and staffers know those. The personal stories and the personal research does get listened to, he said.

"It's never a waste of time to reach out and talk to somebody," said McCollum. "Democracy is about sharing opinions and making sure we have all the information available to us. We need to have that engagement, it's critical."

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