Email is now a main channel for politics
WASHINGTON, D.C. (March 20) – Email has become an increasingly popular and potent tool for political communication in America. Two-thirds of politically engaged Internet users during the 2002 election cycle sent or received email related to the campaign.
But campaigners said they had more success using the Net to communicate with the press than with citizens –an impression confirmed by online citizens, who said they did not find the political information they were looking for as often as online searchers for health and government information.
The steady, slow, and uneven maturation of online politicking is the principal theme of “Untuned Keyboards: Online Campaigners, Citizens, and Portals in the 2002 Elections,” a new report by The George Washington University’s Institute for Politics, Democracy, and the Internet (IPDI) and the Pew Internet & American Life Project. The report is being released at the Institute’s 10th Politics Online Conference in Washington D.C. on March 21, 2003.
For the political community, it was good news that the number of Americans who use the Internet to get political news and information grew 39% between the summer of 2000 and the 2002 midterm election, from 33 million to 46 million. But there remains considerable room for online campaigners to improve. Over 70 million Internet users have yet to be drawn into the online political arena. And the 46 million who did venture there often ended up frustrated.
“We found that campaigners increasingly appreciate the value of a good e-mail list,” said Dr. Michael Cornfield, IPDI Research Director. “But they haven’t come to grips with the new crafts of producing, promoting, and managing online content.”
The survey of online Americans showed that during the recent campaign, 66% of those who used the Internet for political activity sent or received campaign-related email and many used email for multiple purposes. By activity, the breakdown is:
The survey also showed breakthrough success for interest-group and organizational Web sites, with 73% of those who use the Internet for politics last year saying they checked such organization sites for information. That includes:
“Email and the Web are tailor made for political communication and voter mobilization, so it’s safe to say that every trend we’ve seen since 1996 will grow dramatically during the 2004 presidential election,” argued Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project. “In the next campaign, more people will use the Internet to get political information. Billions more emails will fly back and forth. The number of politically-related sites will proliferate. And fewer candidates will be behind the times online. Internet politics is moving from the toddler stage to something much more mature.”
Less clear for election 2004 are the involvement levels and roles to be played by the big Internet portals, such as AOL, MSN, Yahoo!, and the Web sites of news media organizations. The study found that in 2002, the big portals developed extensive sets of directories and tools for campaign and election activity, but did not feature them much on their home pages.
Some other key findings in the joint report and surveys:
Impact of the Internet
What online citizens did on the Internet
Why they went online for political news and information
b What races mattered to online citizens
The George Washington University Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet conducts research and sponsors conferences in order to promote the development of U.S. online politics in a manner which upholds democratic values.
b The Pew Internet & American Life Project is a non-profit, independent research center that is fully funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts to examine the social impact of the Internet.