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A New Era of Participatory Politics: The Growth of Online Political Behavior

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The high levels of engagement noted in younger generations suggest a shift in how future politicians will engage with voters and constituents. While television may still be the most popular source of ...

The high levels of engagement noted in younger generations suggest a shift in how future politicians will engage with voters and constituents. While television may still be the most popular source of political information, the participatory nature of online, and its unwavering growth and popularity, cannot be ignored.

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A New Era of Participatory Politics: The Growth of Online Political Behavior Document Transcript

  • 1. Running head: A NEW ERA OF PARTICIPATORY POLITICS 1 A New Era of Participatory Politics: The Growth of Online Political Behavior Nicole Cathcart The Johns Hopkins University
  • 2. A NEW ERA OF PARTICIPATORY POLITICS 2 In an analysis of data from the 2004 American National Election studies, researchers(Dalrymple&Scheufele, 2007) used election surveys to evaluate whether news consumptionimpacted the type of knowledge demonstrated in voters. Using data from1212 respondents inpre-election, in-person surveys and 1066 respondents in post-election surveys, results showedthat those who consumed political information from newspapers had a higher level of factual, ordifferentiated, knowledge. Additionally, those who consumed political news from online sourceshad higher levels of integrated knowledge, or a better grasp on the more complex platforms andcandidate positions. In a more general evaluation of the state of politics online, The Pew Internet andAmerican Life project (Smith, 2008) report shows that while television is still the most commonsource of political information for Americans, newspapers and online are now approximately thesame, at 28 percent and 26 percent respectively. However, online resources are growing inpopularity in all age groups, political affiliations, income and education levels with very fewexceptions. Engagement and social media were far more popular in the 18-29 age range, with 49percent utilizing social networks to engage politically and 40 percent creating original content. Utilizing a content analysis to evaluate a random sampling of 10,000 blog posts from 16top political blogs and 147 less popular political blogs, Wallsten (2007) categorized blogs aseither transmission belts, soapboxes, mobilizers or conversation starters. The results showedsimilarities in content type for both the popular and less popular blogs, where the top type ofposting was simply commentary, followed by a links or reference to an external media source.Regardless of blog popularity, when a call to action was used within a blog post, the mostfrequent method suggested was to email a political official.
  • 3. A NEW ERA OF PARTICIPATORY POLITICS 3 Utilizing a post-test and controlled experiment, researchers (Coleman, Lieber,Mendelson&Kurpius, 2008) determined if usability of a website could impact levels of civicengagement. The experiment used a tasking activity with a survey on two budget-relatedwebsites—one that had been created based on preferences in navigation and design, and theother a state-sponsored website. The random assignment of website to the 60 participants placed27 people in the experimental and 33 people in the control group. The results showed thatusability significantly impacted interest in civic life, specifically elements of good design andnavigation.Analysis Although age, education and economic status all impact online behavior, unsurprisinglyshowing that younger, wealthier and more educated population segments go online more forpolitical information (Smith, 2008), political affiliation does also appear to correlate with onlinebehavior. Democrats reported the highest levels of online consumption, at 44 percent in 2008,and Obama supporters in the 2008 election were more likely to share information via email ortext messages than McCain supporters (Smith, 2008). Liberal bloggers also appear to be moreprolific, as Wallsten (2007) noted in his analysis, which disproportionately represents liberalbloggers over conservative or independent sources. The high levels of engagement noted in younger generations suggest a shift in how futurepoliticians will engage with voters and constituents. While television may still be the mostpopular source of political information, the participatory nature of online, and its unwaveringgrowth and popularity, cannot be ignored. While Obama’s success in 2008 cannot be attributed
  • 4. A NEW ERA OF PARTICIPATORY POLITICS 4entirely to a masterful social media and online engagement program, it is hard to imagine thatfuture Presidential candidates will be able to avoid investment in a similar online campaign.
  • 5. A NEW ERA OF PARTICIPATORY POLITICS 5 ReferencesColeman, R., Lieber, P., Mendelson, A. L., &Kurpius, D. D. (2008). Public life and the internet: If you build a better website, will citizens become engaged? New Media and Society, 10(2), 179-201.Dalrymple, K. E., &Scheufele, D. A. (2007). Finally informing the electorate: How the internet got people thinking about presidential politics in 2004. Harvard Journal of Press/Politics, 12(3), 96-111.Smith, A. (2008). The Internet’s Role in Campaign 2008. Pew Internet and American Life Project. Retrieved from http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1192/internet-politics-campaign- 2008Wallsten, K. (2007). Political blogs: Transmission belts, soap boxes, mobilizers, or conversation starters? Journal of Information Technology and Politics, 4(3), 19-40.