Pew Study Shows Emerging Trends in Political, Civic Engagement Online

On KARN radio on Monday, political bloggers Blake Rutherford and David Kinkade commented on how new media has finally arrived in Arkansas, and how blogs and social networks will play an even bigger role in the 2010 election cycle (one that’s already sure to be exciting given a certain U.S. Senate race) as more Arkansans become politically engaged, bloggers break news alongside traditional media and candidates rally supporters in online spaces.

This week, a new study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project outlines emerging trends in political and civic engagement, and it will be interesting to see if some of these findings play out in Arkansas, so often the final destination for new social and technological movements. Below, some of the Pew study’s key findings and some brief comments:

Whether they take place on the internet or off, traditional political activities remain the domain of those with high levels of income and education.

There’s obviously been some hope that the Internet might be the great equalizer in terms of political engagement by the haves and the have-nots. But the Pew study finds that this simply hasn’t happened yet. Pew notes, of course, that much of this is tied to broadband availability. In Arkansas, of example, you’re much more likely to have high-speed Internet access if you are more affluent and live in a larger city.


At the same time, because younger Americans are more likely than their elders to be internet users, the participation gap between relatively unengaged young and much more engaged middle-aged adults that ordinarily typifies offline political activity is less pronounced when it comes to political participation online.

So youth might be a leveler, in terms of political activities by folks in vastly different economic classes. And, Pew says, so could blogs and social media, because the bigger group of people who use those Internet media are aged 18-29:

There are hints that forms of civic engagement anchored in blogs and social networking sites could alter long-standing patterns that are based on socio-economic status.

Pew says “hints,” because we don’t yet know whether we’ll see a generational change in civic involvement, or merely a “life-cycle phenomenon that will change as these younger users age.”

(After the jump, more findings by the Pew study.)

Other findings include:

The internet is now part of the fabric of everyday civic life. Half of those who are involved in a political or community group communicate with other group members using digital tools such as email or group websites.

Which of course relates to this:

Respondents report that public officials are no less responsive to email than to snail mail.  Online communications to government officials are just as likely to draw a response as contacts in person, over the phone, or by letter.

Politicians and government officials often (and should) treat e-mail communications from constituents with as much urgency as they treat written communication. And it’s likely that they should strive to treat all online communication with constituents with that same urgency, whether it be on places like Facebook and Twitter, as more people use those spaces as their primary points of communication.

And finally, there’s this:

Those who make political donations are more likely to use the internet to make their contributions than are those who make charitable donations; however, large political donations are much less likely to be made online than are large charitable donations.

Politicians of all shapes and sizes, running for all offices from constable to President of the United States, must have some type of online fund-raising initiative. Not only is the cost of raising money online almost nothing, online will increasingly become the please to raise money. Still, the big chunks of cash are likely to come offline, which perhaps is as it should be.

You can read the full report via this link.


Study Finds Web No Equalizer For Civic Engagement – AP

Online Politics Leads to Offline Activism – The Hill

Online Politics Reserved for Rich – BBC

Social Media Is Slowly Changing the Demographics of Political Engagement – Read Write Web


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