Regional officials embrace e-mail, study finds

Regional officials embrace e-mail, study finds

Mayors and city council members across the country routinely use e-mail to communicate with constituents, in contrast to federal elected officials who are swamped with e-mail and often dismiss it, according to a new study.

Eighty-eight percent of local officials use e-mail and the Internet for official duties, with 61 percent using it daily, found the survey by the Pew Center’s Project on the Internet and American Life.

Almost four-fifths of the officials who responded to the survey said they receive e-mail about civic issues, and a quarter said they receive issue-oriented e-mail daily. Eighty-six percent of respondents told researchers that they are able to reply to all their e-mail messages.

The center said the survey is the first-ever study of Internet and e-mail use by high-level regional officials. The Pew research team sent surveys to 2,000 randomly selected members of the National League of Cities whose municipalities have populations larger than 10,000. It received 520 responses.

Sixty-one percent of local officials also said e-mail can facilitate public debate. But 38 percent said e-mail alone cannot carry the full weight of a debate of public issues and that other methods such as postal mail and meetings are necessary.

Fifty-four percent of the respondents said e-mail had brought them into contact with citizens from whom they had not heard before. Seventy-three percent said e-mail with constituents helped them better understand public opinion, and 56 percent said e-mail has improved their relations with community groups.

Local officials’ support of e-mail contrasts with federal officials’ experience, the Pew report about the survey concluded. Activists can on short notice solicit citizens to send thousands, even tens of thousands, of e-mail messages to congressional offices, the study said. This factor has spawned a backlash against the medium—by lawmakers and activists.

“The Congress Online Project reported that that House of Representatives received 85.5 million e-mail messages in 2001,” the study said. “Activists now warn about the futility of sending multiple copies of identical e-mails to overburdened congressional staff, so popular have e-mail campaigns become among citizens.”

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