Congressional town halls not necessarily indicative of public opinion

I heard two news reports yesterday from two respected media sources about Congressional members holding towns halls in their districts about possible military action in Syria. Both reports featured residents speaking up against military action. Both hinted that constituents weren’t happy with the idea of military action. However, how much do town halls like these really tell us?

I would suggest not much. While they give constituents an opportunity to directly address a member of Congress, these events are great for the media. There are plenty of opportunities for heated speeches, soundbites, and disagreement amongst the crowd. One report featured a soundbite of a constituent suggesting that if he were in power, he would put charge both the president and his congressman with treason. The other report featured some people speaking for military action in Syria – some Syrian Americans asking for the United States to stand up to a dictator – and facing boos from others in the crowd.

Instead of focusing on town halls which provide some political theater, we should look to national surveys to American public opinion. Focus on the big picture, not on towns halls which provide small samples.