TOWN HALL PROJECT - Jan-April 2019 Congressional Accessibility Report - rev. 5/24

In our third year conducting nationwide rapid research into the schedules of members of Congress--and encouraging Americans everywhere to show up and speak out to their elected officials--Town Hall Project is happy to share our most comprehensive data set yet. The bottom line: The town hall is back.

2019: THE TOWN HALL IS BACK

After a steep decline in 2018, in part fueled by a large number of Republican members of Congress who ceased to hold town halls entirely after the often-contentious public meetings during the attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act in 2017, we are heartened to see a positive trendline in town halls being held by members of Congress.

Compared to the same period in 2018, the first third of 2019 saw 67% more federal town halls held. And even though last year was an election year, very few incumbent members of Congress were holding campaign town halls this early in 2018.

Both parties have stepped up their public accessibility, including steep increases from several Republicans who received unexpected stiff challenges in 2018 (e.g. Steve King, IA-04).

While far too many members of Congress remaining “missing” and inaccessible to the people they work for, we applaud a growing group of members for this positive 2019 trend and encourage Americans across the political spectrum to continue to demand more of the people we have elected to represent us.

Jan - April 2017

897 total

510 Democratic

387 Republican

Jan - April 2018

551 total

365 Democratic

186 Republican

Jan - April 2019

924 total

589 Democratic

335 Republican

FRESHMEN LEAD THE WAY

A particularly heartening development is the substantial upswing in town hall and other public events by freshman members of the 116th Congress.

Freshmen were responsible more than 31% of the total town halls held by members of this Congress, despite making up just over 20% of Congress.

The disparity is even more dramatic when broken down by party. As of the end of April, 95% of Democratic freshman members have held at least one town hall event vs. just 43% of Congress as a whole (and just 32% of Republican freshmen in this Congress).

The Democratic freshman class in the House, in particular, pride themselves on being available to their constituents, especially after many of them made lawmaker accessibility a prominent issue in their 2018 challenger campaigns.

At the end of the first 100 days, freshman leaders Rep. Joe Neguse (CO-02), Rep. Katie Hill (CA-25), and Rep. Haley Stevens (MI-11) took to the House floor to celebrate the historic efforts at accessibility by this freshman class.

We hope this enthusiasm for accessibility rubs off on their peers in Congress, and those seeking the office in 2020. Town hall accessibility is good governance and good politics.

Jan-April 2019

MOCs holding at least one town hall

House Freshmen Democrats

60 out of 64

95%

House Freshman GOP

12 out of 37

32%

Senate Freshmen Democrats

0 out of 3

0%

Senate Freshman GOP

2 out of 7

29%

All House Democrats

158 out of 235

67%

All House GOP

54 out of 197

27%

All Senate Democrats

14 out of 47

30%

All Senate GOP

6 out of 53

11%

Congress as a whole

231 out of 532

43%

STANDOUT FRESHMAN

Unsurprisingly, some of the members holding town halls at the highest rate, are those who recently upset incumbents in 2018, and are likely to face serious challenges of their own in 2020.

Additionally, a significant percentage of freshmen who frequently hold town halls took the Town Hall Pledge in 2018, a commitment to their constituents to hold a minimum of four town halls per year.

Member

2019 Town Halls

Town Hall Pledger

Chamber

District

Party

Cindy Axne

16

Y

H

IA-03

D

Joe Neguse*

15

H

CO-02

D

Antonio Delgado

12

Y

H

NY-19

D

John Curtis

12

H

UT-03

R

Van Taylor

9

H

TX-03

R

Josh Harder

8

Y

H

CA-10

D

Sean Casten

8

Y

H

IL-06

D

Joe Cunningham

8

H

SC-01

D

Donna Shalala

7

H

FL-27

D

Haley Stevens

7

Y

H

MI-11

D

Ben McAdams

7

H

UT-04

D

Abigail Spanberger

7

Y

H

VA-07

D

Mike Levin

6

H

CA-49

D

Abby Finkenauer

6

H

IA-01

D

Lauren Underwood

6

H

IL-14

D

Kendra Horn

6

H

OK-05

D

Bryan Steil

6

Y

H

WI-01

R

*Most true town halls.

A LITTLE COMPETITION

2019 has also seen the surprising trend of Republicans members of Congress who had previously been “Missing Members,” (those not holding a single town hall event during the 115th Congress) holding their first town halls in years, some of them, like Rep. Steve King (IA-04), at great frequency.

In both King and Steve Chabot’s 2018 contests, their challengers took the Town Hall Pledge and each made town hall accessibility prominent issues in their campaigns. While neither challengers succeeded, it appears their challenges spurred the victorious incumbents to take accessibility to their constituents much more seriously this year.

Member

2019 Town Halls

2017-2018  Town Halls

District

Party

2018 margin of victory

2016 margin of victory

Rob Woodall

1

0

GA-07

R

0.2%

20.8%

John Carter

1

0

TX-31

R

2.9%

21.9%

Steve King

12

0

IA-04

R

3.4%

22.6%

Steve Chabot

11

0

OH-01

R

4.4%

18.4%

Roger Williams

9

0

TX-25

R

8.7%

20.6%

Robert Wittman

5

0

VA-01

R

10.5%

23.3%

Susan Brooks

1

0

IN-05

R

13.6%

27.2%

Randy Weber

3

0

TX-14

R

19.9%

23.8%

Austin Scott

1

0

GA-08

R

No challenger

35.2%

DOUBLING DOWN

At the same time, of the 107 “Missing Members” from 2017-2018 still in Congress, 98 of them have not held a single town hall meeting with their constituents in 2019.

These Missing Member holdouts include longtime incumbents in perceived “safe” states or districts like Sen. Richard Shelby (AL) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (NY), but also members who narrowly won their last election, like Sen. Ted Cruz (TX), Rep. Devin Nunes (CA-22), and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (AZ).

We hope these “Missing Members” consider that the culture of expectations of town hall accessibility is only going to grow since the last election, and they will find themselves facing tough questions on why they aren’t taking the time to meet with the people they work for.

2020 SENATE INCUMBENTS

A far smaller percentage of senators--of both parties--hold town halls when compared to their colleagues in the House, and the senators up for re-election in 2020 are no exception.

While some incumbents expecting stiff challenges--like Sen. Doug Jones (AL) and Sen. Joni Ernst (IA)--are making town halls with their constituents a priority, others like Sen. Thom Tillis (NC), Sen. John Cornyn (TX), Sen. Susan Collins (ME), and Sen. Cory Gardner (CO) have held exactly zero.

Senators up for re-election in 2020

Member

Town Halls

District

Party

Jeff Merkley

24

OR

D

Jerry Moran

18

KS

R

Joni Ernst

12

IA

R

Doug Jones

3

AL

D

Christopher Coons

3

DE

D

Christopher Murphy

2

CT

D

Edward Markey

2

MA

D

Mark Warner

2

VA

D

Brian Schatz

1

HI

D

Richard Durbin

1

IL

D

Gary Peters

1

MI

D

Jeanne Shaheen

1

NH

D

[edit: James Lankford erroneously included in previous version]

Bob Casey

1

PA

D

David Perdue

0

GA

R

James Risch

0

ID

R

Mitch McConnell

0

KY

R

Cindy Hyde-Smith

0

MS

R

Steve Daines

0

MT

R

Thom Tillis

0

NC

R

James Inhofe

0

OK

R

John Cornyn

0

TX

R

Shelley Moore Capito

0

WV

R

Dan Sullivan

0

AK

R

Tom Cotton

0

AR

R

Martha McSally

0

AZ

R

Cory Gardner

0

CO

R

Bill Cassidy

0

LA

R

Susan Collins

0

ME

R

Ben Sasse

0

NE

R

Cory Booker

0

NJ

D

Jack Reed

0

RI

D

Lindsey Graham

0

SC

R

Mike Rounds

0

SD

R

THE PRESIDENTIAL CONTENDERS

Unsurprisingly, no group has seen a greater drop-off in town halls held in their home districts/states as the contingent of Democratic members of Congress running for president.

While we understand the practical demands of running a national campaign--and we applaud how many of these candidates have made campaign town halls a core of their campaign efforts--we do hope these candidates weigh their ongoing responsibilities as public servants and take time to meet their current constituents from time to time.

Member

116th Congress Town Halls

District

115th Congress Town Halls

Cory Booker

0

NJ

2

Seth Moulton

3

MA-06

15

Eric Swalwell

0

CA-15

11

Tulsi Gabbard

0

HI-02

7

Tim Ryan

0

OH-13

2

Kamala Harris

0

CA

5

Amy Klobuchar

0

MN

2

Bernie Sanders

0

VT

9

Michael Bennet

0

CO

16

Elizabeth Warren

0

MA

12

TOWN HALL PLEDGERS

The “Town Hall Pledge” program has been a thrilling success. We have seen 297 candidates take the Pledge to their constituents--including 39 members of the 116th Congress, as well as state legislators, and other elected officials--including incoming Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

Pledgers in Congress have held 151 town halls so far, a rate that far outpaces the average members of Congress (3.9 town halls per pledger vs. 1.6 per non-pledger).

Member

Town Halls

District

Party

Freshman

Abigail Spanberger

7

VA-07

D

Y

Adam Smith

2

WA-09

D

Andy Kim

5

NJ-03

D

Y

Andy Levin

5

MI-09

D

Y

Angie Craig

4

MN-02

D

Y

Anthony Brindisi

4

NY-22

D

Y

Antonio Delgado*

12

NY-19

D

Y

Bryan Steil

6

WI-01

R

Y

Cindy Axne

16

IA-03

D

Y

Colin Allred

2

TX-32

D

Y

Dan Crenshaw

0

TX-02

R

Y

Dean Phillips

3

MN-03

D

Y

Debbie Dingell

3

MI-12

D

Elaine Luria

4

VA-02

D

Y

Eric Swalwell

0

CA-15

D

Haley Stevens

7

MI-11

D

Y

James Comer

0

KY-01

R

Jamie Raskin

1

MD-08

D

Jan Schakowsky

2

IL-09

D

Jason Crow

2

CO-06

D

Y

Jennifer Wexton

1

VA-10

D

Y

Joe Manchin

2

WV

D

Josh Harder

8

CA-10

D

Y

Katie Porter

4

CA-45

D

Y

Kevin Cramer

1

ND

R

Y

Lizzie Fletcher

2

TX-07

D

Y

Lucy McBath

1

GA-06

D

Y

Mark Pocan

7

WI-02

D

Mary Scanlon

2

PA-05

D

Y

Matt Cartwright

9

PA-08

D

Nanette Barragán

3

CA-44

D

Raja Krishnamoorthi

3

IL-08

D

Rashida Tlaib

5

MI-13

D

Y

Sean Casten

8

IL-06

D

Y

Sean Maloney

6

NY-18

D

Steven Horsford

2

NV-04

D

Susie Lee

1

NV-03

D

Y

Sylvia Garcia

1

TX-29

D

Tim Ryan

0

OH-13

D

Abby Finkenauer

6

IA-01

D

Y

*Most true town halls.


BY MONTH

The pace of total town halls held has been increasing steadily in 2019--though it should be noted the January recess was canceled during the protracted federal shutdown and several members re-scheduled their January town halls for later months.

January 2019

134

February 2019

205

March 2019

249

April 2019

334

DAY OF WEEK

As one would expect, Saturdays are the most common day members of Congress hold town halls, with Sunday being the least common, and Thursday as the most common weekday.

Fridays

12.6%

Saturdays

25.0%

Sundays

6.1%

Mondays

12.7%

Tuesdays

14.2%

Wednesdays

14.4%

Thursdays

15.0%

OUR CRITERIA

We use the term “town hall” to refer to any public event held by a member of Congress in their official capacity that meets the following conditions:

Town Halls must:

-Be free and open to the public. (We discourage but grudgingly accept town halls that require RSVPs).

-Be announced with at least 24 hours’ notice.

-Feature at least 30 minutes of open Q&A.

-Be held within the lawmaker’s district (or, for a U.S. senator, state), or (in certain multi-district metro areas) be held within a 30 minute drive of their district.

 

Town Halls can:

-Be dedicated to a specific topic (e.g. “Health care town hall,” “Immigration town hall,”, etc.)

-Be hosted by multiple lawmakers.

-Feature other speakers as long as the lawmaker is the primary speaker and is available to answer questions for at least 30 minutes.

 

Town Halls may not:

-Be limited to a specific segment of the lawmaker’s constituents (e.g. only Republicans, nurses, veterans, seniors, employees of a specific company). If restricted, this event fits in the Other category.

-Screen questions in any way.

-Be closed to the press.

We also reserve the right to disqualify events that are held in transparent bad faith or otherwise violate the understood purpose of these events--to foster an honest, open dialogue between constituents and their representatives.

OUR METHODS

The heart of Town Hall Project is our nationwide team of volunteer researchers who are assigned several members of Congress to research and report on throughout the week. Our volunteer research is supplemented by public event submissions, direct communication with congressional offices, digital tools to monitor social media, and staff verification to catch missed events and evaluate submissions.

To prepare for this report, our team conducted a full audit of our entire event database.

We are always improving the quality and comprehensiveness of our event data, so if we are missing events or there are other needed corrections to the record, we encourage people to contact us at info@townhallproject.com.

DEFINITIONS

We use the New York Times definition of freshman members of Congress. For simplicity we categorize independents who caucus with Democrats (Sen. Angus King and Sen. Bernie Sanders) as Democrats in our analysis.

Town Hall Project is a project of the Sixteen Thirty Fund, a 501(c)4 public welfare organization.