The Center for the Digital Future (CDF), at the USC Annenberg School, has recently released their fifth survey of Internet use. According to the information available on the survey results on the CDF website, a number of new and interesting trends continue to show the impact of the Internet and other new technologies on American politics and civic engagement.
“The Internet and political knowledge — In 2005, belief that the Internet can be a tool for learning about the political process continues to increase, with 60.4 percent of users and 34.6 percent of non-users agreeing that by using the Internet, people can better understand politics.
In year five of the study, 41.1 percent of Internet users went online to gather information about the presidential campaign.
“Notably, the largest percentage of these users sought campaign information on traditional media Web sites,” said Cole. “A much smaller group used information placed online by the candidates.” (39.5 percent to traditional media sites; 27.1 percent to candidates’ sites)
Of users who went online to seek campaign information, 91.1 percent sought information about issues or candidates they supported; 77.4 percent also sought information about issues and candidates about which they were undecided.
— Of users who gathered campaign information online, 87.2 percent were satisfied with the information about the presidential election they found online.
“The Internet is providing a direct conduit through which office seekers can reach voters, without media gatekeepers sifting and interpreting politicians’ messages,” Cole said. “This issue raises many questions. While the Internet creates an open forum for delivery of information, it can be used just as easily for responsible campaigning or as a platform for political mischief and miscommunication. How will the growing role of the Internet shape the political campaigns of elections to come?”
And as to the cumulative results from their five-year study, on the effect of the Internet and new technologies on American political life:
“Political Power And Influence
- The Internet’s Importance In Political Campaigns
- * In 2005, large numbers of respondents (61.7 percent) agree that the Internet has become important to political campaigns. (Page 103)
- * More than half of non-users (52 percent) also agree that the Internet is important for political campaigns. (Page 103)
- The Internet and Political Knowledge
- * In 2005, belief that the Internet can be a tool for learning about the political process continues to increase, with 60.4 percent of users and 34.6 percent of non-users agreeing that by using the Internet, people can better understand politics. (Page 104)
- Is The Internet A Tool To Help Gain Political Power?
- * For the first time in the Digital Future Project, the number of Internet users who say that the Internet can be used as a tool to gain political power has begun to rise. (Page 105)
- Online Information And The Presidential Elections
- * Large percentages of Internet users went online for information about the candidates in the 2004 presidential election — for information about issues or candidates they supported, as well as for information about issues and candidates about which they were undecided. (Page 106)
- Where Online Do Users Find Campaign Information?
- * Internet users use candidates’ Web sites for information, but not as their primary source for campaign information. (Page 107)
- * The largest percentage of adult users who went online for campaign information relied on traditional media Web sites; a smaller group of users used candidates’ Web sites. (Page 107)”
Unfortunately, the report does not provide much detail about the survey methodology, making it a bit difficult to know the precision or reliability of the survey data. I’ll check with colleagues at USC about learning more about these surveys, and about their results. This is an intriguing project, providing additional data on how the Internet is reshaping political and civic life in the United States.