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Town hall meetings, also referred to as town halls or town hall forums, an expression that originates mainly from
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, are a way for local and national politicians to meet with their constituents either to hear from them on topics of interest or to discuss specific upcoming legislation or regulation. During periods of active political debate, town halls can be a locus for protest and more active debate. The term is unfamiliar in British English where politicians hold (political) surgeries. Despite their name, town hall meetings need not take place in a town hall. They are commonly held in a range of venues, including schools, libraries, municipal buildings, and churches. A number of officials have also experimented with digital formats for town halls. Town hall meetings organized by national politicians are often held in a variety of locations distributed across a voting district so that elected representatives can receive feedback from a larger proportion of constituents. Historically, no specific rules or guidelines have defined a town hall meeting. Any event that allows constituent participation with a politician may be called a town hall, including gatherings in person, group phone calls, or events on Internet platforms such as
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or
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. Attendees use town halls to voice their opinions and question
elected official An official is someone who holds an office (function or mandate, regardless whether it carries an actual working space with it) in an organization An organization, or organisation ( Commonwealth English; see spelling differences), is an ...
s,
political candidate A candidate, or nominee, is the prospective recipient of an award or honor, or a person seeking or being considered for some kind of position; for example: * to be election, elected to an official, office — in this case a Preselection, candidat ...
s, and public figures. In contrast to
town meetings A town meeting is a form of direct democracy in which most or all of the members of a community come together to legislate policy and budgets for local government. It is a town- or city-level meeting in which decisions are made, in contrast wit ...
, a type of direct democratic rule that originated in colonial
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New England
, attendees do not
vote Voting is a method for a group, such as a meeting or an Constituency, electorate, in order to make a collective decision making, decision or express an opinion usually following discussions, debates or election campaigns. Democracy, Democracie ...

vote
on issues during town hall meetings. In the
United States The United States of America (U.S.A. or USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US) or America, is a country Continental United States, primarily located in North America. It consists of 50 U.S. state, states, a Washington, D.C., ...

United States
, town halls are a common way for national politicians to connect or reconnect with their constituents during recesses, when they are in their home districts away from
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History

Town hall meetings can be traced back to the colonial era of the United States and to the 19th century in Australia. The introduction of television and other new media technologies in the 20th century led to a fresh flourishing of town hall meetings in the United States as well as experimentation with different formats in the United States and other countries, both of which continue to the present day.


United States

Town hall meetings are meant to resemble the New England
town meeting A town meeting is a form of direct democracy Image:Landsgemeinde Glarus 2006.jpg, upright=1.5, A Landsgemeinde, or assembly, of the canton of Glarus, on 7 May 2006, Switzerland. Direct democracy or pure democracy is a form of democracy in ...
that originated in the 17th century. However, participants in town hall meetings do not actually vote or make legally binding decisions as town meeting voters do. Some political organizations track publicized town hall events by politicians across the United States. The 1858 debates between
Abraham Lincoln Abraham Lincoln (; February 12, 1809 – April 15, 1865) was an American statesman and lawyer who served as the 16th president of the United States The president of the United States (POTUS) is the head of state and head of governme ...

Abraham Lincoln
and
Stephen Douglas Stephen Arnold Douglas (April 23, 1813 – June 3, 1861) was an American politician and lawyer from Illinois Illinois ( ) is a in the region of the . Of the fifty U.S. states, it has the , population, and the . is the state's large ...
in some respects resembled a modern town hall meeting, although the candidates did not take questions from the audience. Not until the twentieth century did presidential candidates commonly campaign in person. Gradually, especially from the 1990s onward, presidential town hall meetings have become nearly as common as stump speeches. Richard Nixon's 1968 U.S. Presidential campaign staged nine live televised question and answer sessions using a ground-breaking theatre-in-the-round format broadcast with a live studio television audience and local residents directly asking questions of the candidate. The producer of Nixon's "Man in the Arena" live town-hall programs was Roger Ailes, who later went to on start Fox News. Ailes' use of a direct voter-to-candidate question-and-answer format served as the blueprint for subsequent and now ubiquitous town hall candidate formats and even multiple-candidate debates. Another step in the development of the modern town hall meeting came on March 16, 1977, when
President Carter James Earl Carter Jr. (born October 1, 1924) is an American politician, businessman, and philanthropist who served as the 39th president of the United States from 1977 to 1981. A member of the Democratic Party (United States), Democratic Par ...

President Carter
attended a televised town hall meeting in
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, that was "modeled after" a real town meeting but did not include binding votes.
Bill Clinton William Jefferson Clinton ('' né'' Blythe III; born August 19, 1946) is an American politician and attorney who served as the 42nd president of the United States The president of the United States (POTUS) is the head of state and ...

Bill Clinton
made town hall meetings a part of his presidential campaign. Interest in town halls fluctuates depending on the level of public interest in the topics being discussed. Controversial or confusing issues that are prominently discussed in the news have led to more town halls being held. Since the 2000s, town halls held by political candidates have announced and enforced rules on crowd behavior and the scope of questions that may be asked. ; 21st century meetings ;: ''Detailed article:
List of significant United States town hall meetings Town hall meetings in the United States are a common way for local and national politicians to meet with their constituents, either to hear from them on topics of interest or to discuss specific upcoming legislation or regulation. Town halls are of ...
'' In 2009,
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groups opposed to the proposed health care reform legislation began attending town halls to express their disagreement with the legislation. The large and vocal crowds led some representatives to cancel or scale back their town hall events. Representative
Brian Baird Brian Norton Baird (born March 7, 1956) is a former United States House of Representatives, United States Representative for , serving from 1999 to 2011 as a member of the Democratic Party (United States), Democratic Party. After leaving the Hous ...

Brian Baird
canceled his live town hall meetings after receiving death threats, choosing to hold a telephone conference call with his constituents instead. Town hall meetings by teleconference or online grew in popularity. Obama held some as sitting President, starting in 2011. Federal agencies have held town halls on Twitter since at least 2013. Some politicians have held AMAs on Reddit, which have similar formats. In 2017, constituents opposed to repeal of that same health care act began attending town halls to express their disagreement with abolishing the legislation. In districts where elected representatives have not scheduled town halls, some constituents have publicly petitioned for meetings. Creative requests for town hall meetings include humorous flyer and sticker campaigns as well as songs. Some constituents have held mock town halls, using a cardboard cutout or empty chair, to stand in for elected representatives who decline to meet with them.


Australia

Australian town hall meetings have been held by
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politicians since at least the 19th century.


Canada

Canadian town halls have been forums for provincial politicians to discuss issues of the day since at least the 20th century. During the 1993 elections, televised town hall meetings were one of a number of initiatives mainstream media adopted to center ordinary citizens at the heart of their campaign coverage. These efforts, which also included panels of voters to offer comment in print and on radio shows, have been collectively praised as an "international best practice."


Japan

Town hall meetings, alternately referred to as タウンミーティング (''taunmiitingu'') and with the English-language phrase "town meeting," have been held in Japan since the late 1970s. In 1979 Shunichi Suzuki, then governor of
Tokyo Tokyo (Japanese language, Japanese: , ''Tōkyō'' ), historically known in the west as Tokio and officially the Tokyo Metropolis (, ''Tōkyō-to''), is capital of Japan, the capital and most populous Prefectures of Japan, prefecture of Japan ...

Tokyo
, held a town hall meeting, its name and format inspired by President Carter's 1977 televised town hall. In subsequent years, media conglomerate has organized town hall meetings with both Japanese and foreign politicians. Various governmental agencies have also held town halls, including the Cabinet Office (National Dialogue of the Town Meeting Koizumi Cabinet), Ministry of Foreign Affairs (ODA Town Meeting), and the Ministry of the Environment (Septic Town Meeting), among others. Political parties, such as the
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,
Democratic PartyDemocratic Party most often refers to: *Democratic Party (United States) Democratic Party and similar terms may also refer to: Active parties Africa *Botswana Democratic Party *Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea *Gabonese Democratic Party *Democ ...
,
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, and
Japanese Communist Party The Japanese Communist Party (JCP; ja, 日本共産党, ''Nihon Kyōsan-tō'') is a List of political parties in Japan, political party in Japan and one of the largest non-governing communist parties in the world. The JCP advocates for the es ...
, also hold town hall meetings. The format extends beyond governmental administration and political parties. Other examples include the Athlete Town Meeting held by the
Japanese Olympic Committee The is the National Olympic Committee A National Olympic Committee (NOC) is a national constituent of the worldwide Olympic movement. Subject to the controls of the International Olympic Committee, NOCs are responsible for organizing their ...
, the JAXA Town Meeting held by the
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, and the Intellectual Property Town Meeting held by the Japan Patent Attorneys Association.


Format

The purpose of town hall meetings is for local and regional officials to hear the community's views on public issues. There have been no specific rules or guidelines for holding a town hall meeting. The format of the meetings can vary. Usually, the person holding the meeting (e.g. member of Congress) makes some opening remarks. Sometimes others (e.g. local leaders) will address the audience, as well. The main part of a town hall meeting tends to occur when the floor is opened up to questions and comments from the audience. Attendees generally present ideas, voice their opinions, ask questions of the public figures, elected officials, or political candidates at the town hall. Sometimes, the town hall meeting is televised or recorded. In recent years, town halls held by political candidates have announced and enforced rules on crowd behavior and the scope of questions that may be asked. If the turnout is large, and if the objective of the particular town hall meeting is to give as many people as possible an opportunity to speak, then the attendees can be broken down into smaller discussion groups. Each smaller group, in that case, appoints someone to summarize discussion of their group. Some have explored alternative formats for town hall meetings, such as an "electronic town hall." The Congress Foundation commissioned a report on online town hall meetings, which found they grew in size and importance starting in the mid-2000s.


Venues

Despite the name town hall, meetings need not take place in a town hall. They commonly take place in a range of venues, including: schools, libraries, municipal buildings, churches, etc. Generally they are held in a public space and there is no charge to attend. In a given district, town hall meetings that are organized by the district's congressional representative are often held in a variety of places across the district.


Other uses of the term

The term "town hall meeting" is also used to describe informal corporate gatherings held to share information such as business results or personnel changes.Example
It's Time for A Town Hall Meeting
All Business.


See also

*
Town meeting A town meeting is a form of direct democracy Direct democracy or pure democracy is a form of democracy in which the Election#Electorate, electorate decides on policy initiatives without legislator, legislative representatives as proxie ...
* AmericaSpeaks * Political surgery *
List of significant United States town hall meetings Town hall meetings in the United States are a common way for local and national politicians to meet with their constituents, either to hear from them on topics of interest or to discuss specific upcoming legislation or regulation. Town halls are of ...
*
Open cabildo The open cabildo (Spanish: ''cabildo abierto'') is a traditional Latin America Latin America is the portion of the Americas comprising countries and regions where Romance languages—languages that derived from Latin—such as Spanish language ...


References


External links


Town Hall Project
– crowdsourced collection of US town hall data
Maps of upcoming town halls
from the Town Hall Project

{{United States town hall meetings Meetings Local government Political events Crowds