Renewing trust and hope in Congress: A toolkit
Eight out of 10 Americans believe Congress is essential to the country and their lives, but they distrust the institution and perceive it as representing the rich and powerful rather than everyday people. At the same time, Americans want Congress to change for the better, but fear it might be beyond repair and don’t know what they can do to create positive change.
During the past year, the Partnership for Public Service along with Hattaway Communications sought to learn more about what it would take to begin rebuilding the public’s trust in Congress, and the role that can be played by advocacy and policy organizations.
We have learned through research that much like our other work to redefine government and rebuild trust in the federal government, changing the current narrative requires alternatives that speak to people’s hearts and minds. This has to be a narrative that reinforces the purpose and principles that should guide Congress.
In our communications toolkit that has groundbreaking research rooted in narrative of change, there are four key components that reflect people’s aspirations and values around Congress:
- Serve the people first: Above all, people are looking for honesty and integrity in Congress. They recognize these qualities when they see members put the needs of real people first—not political parties, powerful interests, or their own careers.
- Represent everyone: Americans believe the job of Congress is to represent all the people of our diverse nation in making decisions that affect all of us. They expect members to represent everyone in their state or district, not just the people who voted for them.
- Work together: People feel hopeful when they see members of Congress working together to solve problems instead of trying to score political points. They believe Congress works best when members work together to solve problems and take responsibility for making Congress work well.
- Put people in the picture—and connect them to Congress: People need to know their voices are heard in Congress. Stories of successful advocacy by average Americans give people a sense of empowerment. Examples of legislation and constituent service that respond to the concerns of everyday people offer hope. Many don’t know how to make their voices heard— show them what they can do.
Consistently using these four ideas in communications about Congress – by telling authentic stories that embody them – we can begin to chip away the negative narrative and reflect back to people the hopes that they have about what the institution should be.
At the Partnership for Public Service, we recognize that to attain the goal of a better government and a stronger democracy, Congress must be an effective institution that is capable of tackling challenges and serving the people. There are bright spots currently happening to strengthen the institution. For example, 142 reforms have been adopted by the House Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress to change processes and structures that will make the institution work better.
At the same time, we recognize that beyond reforming itself, Congress has a long road ahead to regain the public’s trust. The good news is that we know how to get there. Everyone—the Partnership, other champions of Congress and the public—has a part to play. This toolkit helps us get closer to that goal.