The Decline of Town Halls

The New York Times reports that town hall meetings are on the decline for G.O.P lawmakers. Partly out of fear, politicians from both sides of the aisle see significant downside in face-to-face, often confrontational interactions with their constituents.

We’ve discussed in the past the disadvantages of town hall meetings in a representative democracy. First, town hall meetings are not representative of a community. Town halls are attended by self-selecting groups of people–often those that feel strongly about an issue and a candidate. This removes the rich diversity of opinions that are necessary for legislators to understand in order to truly represent their constituency.

Second, town hall meetings are not always a free exchange of rational ideas. Often they are hostile exchanges between constituents and their legislators, or between candidates and their opponents. They lack the quality of rational debate among the informed public. That may be why many politicians have stopped holding town hall meetings. “ninety percent of the audience will be there interested in what you have to say,” one Senate aide said. “It’s the other 5 or 10 percent who aren’t. They’re there to make a point and, frankly to hijack the meeting.”

Even so, the decline of town hall meetings moves our democracy in the wrong direction. The less interaction we as the public have to our representatives, the less representative our government is likely to be.

Our Citizens Jury process offers an alternative. Our partner organization Jefferson Action held a forum where candidates from both major parties addressed their informed constituents.

Turns out, the candidates liked the process too.