How Do Municipal Representatives Learn About Their Constituents?

Written by Laura Conrad

Learning about constituents’ views is an important aspect of municipal representatives’ day-to-day work, but little is known about how representatives prefer to acquire this information. To help us better understand this question, the Canadian Municipal Barometer’s 2021 annual survey asked municipal representatives to rate the importance of nine different sources of information for learning about constituents’ views.  

Our data suggests that municipal representatives prefer unmediated sources of information; that is, representatives prefer to learn about their constituents’ views directly from constituents. These sources include conversations with constituents while out in public; public meetings (such as townhalls, council meetings, and committee meetings); direct emails, phone calls, and letters from constituents; private meetings in ward or constituency offices; and door knocking between elections.

In contrast, mediated sources of information – such as professional surveys, traditional media (call in shows, letters to the editor, etc.), and online surveys are generally not considered to be as important for learning about constituents’ views.  

We might expect to see differences in these results between larger and smaller municipalities given that some sources of information – such as professional public opinion surveys –  may be more accessible in larger cities. However, we find that the importance of all measured sources of information remains largely consistent across municipalities of varying population sizes.

For each of the four population ranges measured in our survey, emails, private meetings, public conversations, and public meetings – all sources of information that come directly from constituents – are favoured over sources of information that are delivered through a secondary source (professional surveys, traditional media, and online surveys).

The figure below illustrates these results. Notice that for emails, private meetings, public conversations, and public meetings, the size of the “not important” bars are consistently small across all population size categories. By contrast, for the last four measures – social media, professional surveys, traditional media, and online surveys, the size of the “not at all important” bars are consistently larger than for unmediated sources.

However, our data does find that professional surveys and traditional media are less accessible to those in smaller municipalities. 

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