May 24, 2004

Use of E-Government Increases 50% as 97 Million Americans Use the Web and Email to Interact with Government Agencies

WASHINGTON – Internet users are increasingly turning to e-government sites to carry out their business with government. But Internet users and non-users alike value having more than one way to get in touch with government. New research by the Pew Internet & American Life Project shows that 97 million adult Americans, or 77% of Internet users, took advantage of e-gov in 2003, whether that meant going to government Web sites or emailing government officials. This represented a growth of 50% from 2002. At the same time, citizens who contact government said they are more likely to turn to traditional means – either the telephone or in-person visits – rather than the Web or email to deal with government. The new Pew Internet Project report, called “How Americans Get in Touch With Government,” surveyed Americans on how they deal with government, what methods they use, and how e-government compares with traditional methods such as the telephone or letters as a tool for citizens engaging public agencies. The findings of the Pew Internet Project survey will be reported on Tuesday, May 25 to the Management of Change Conference in Philadelphia by Project Director Lee Rainie. The conference is sponsored by the American Council for Technology (ACT). Rainie will argue that the findings show the benefits and limits of e-government applications. E-government increases the flow of information between citizens and government, allowing people to contact agencies directly over the Web or find out more about a problem they may need government assistance with before they pick up the phone. And it allows people to comment easily on civic issues of the day. Specifically:

  • Internet users are about 3 times as likely as non-Internet users to get in touch with government, whether the contact means conducting a transaction or seeking help with a problem.
  • 30% of Internet users have emailed a government official in order to try to influence policy or change a politician’s position on a law.
  • Half of all Internet users and 59% of online users with broadband connections at home say that the Internet has helped their relationship with government. The current limits of e-government have to do with people’s preferences, technological assets, and the variety of problems people bring to government, not all of which lend themselves to e-gov solutions. Of the 54% of Americans who contacted government in the past year, the telephone or in-person visits were preferred to the Web or email by a 53% to 37% margin. Additionally, the report finds that the more complex or urgent a problem a citizen has, the more likely he is to pick up the telephone or visit a government office to address the problem. For the one-third of American adults without Internet access, non-cyber means are the only options they have to contact government. “When citizens think about a tool to contact government, they have a Swiss Army knife in mind,” said Senior Researcher John B. Horrigan of the Pew Internet & American Life Project and principal author of the report. “People want multiple means at hand when they want or need to turn to government. The Internet’s main benefit is arming people with more information; this helps people move through their dealings with government more efficiently.” Other findings from the report include:
  • 63% of Americans who contact government report that they were successful in addressing the issue that prompted the contact.
  • 76% of Americans who contact government say they were “very” or “somewhat” satisfied with the outcome of their last dealing with government.
  • 22% of Americans who contact government use more than one means to do it, with the telephone most likely to the first option chosen.
  • Traditional means of contacting government are strongly preferred by those who have a disability.
  • Americans with disabilities are less likely than others to have Internet access. Just 40% of those with disabilities have access, compared to 63% of the overall population. Those with disabilities prefer contacting the government by telephone or in person rather than over the Web or email by a 65% to 15% margin. This Pew Internet & American Life Project report is based on a random digit dial telephone survey of 2,925 Americans age 18 and over conducted between June 25, 2003 and August 3, 2003. The survey was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates and was administered in English. For results based on the total sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the error attributable to sampling and other random effects is +/- 2%. For results based Internet users (n=1,899), the margin of sampling error is +/- 2%. The Pew Internet & American Life Project is a non-profit, non-partisan research organization funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts to explore the social impact of the Internet. The Project does not advocate any policy positions.