Internet, income, education, civic engagement

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

So begins the summary to a new study by researchers at the Pew Internet & American Life Project. Traditional Internet political civic engagement activities are viewed as: emailing government officials; signing an online petition, emailing an editor; making political contributions on the internet; communicating with civic/political groups by messaging, instant messaging or using the group's social networking site.

Examining the data regarding offline civic activities and their online counterparts, the researchers found:
Online political activities are marked by the same high levels of stratification by income and education as their offline counterparts.

Political activity is highly correlated with income, whether that activity takes place online or off.
However, examining political engagement on blogs and social networking sites, they found "young adults more likely to engage in "new" forms of online civic engagement;" and the income and education gaps for these who take part in the new civic activities are reduced:
...those under age 35 represent 28% of the respondents in our survey but make up fully 72% of those who make political use of social networking sites, and 55% of those who post comments or visual material about politics on the Web. The youngest members of this group—those under age 25—constitute just 10% of our survey respondents but make up 40% of those who make political use of social networking sites and 29% of those who post comments or visual material about politics online.
Without offering more than the suggestion that the new social media might be changing the traditional character of civic engagement, the study asks:
[W]ill these forms of internet-based political engagement which entail opportunities for political expression and communication among large numbers of dispersed people foster the forms of political participation that involve attempts to influence political outcomes?

The Internet and Civic Engagement by Aaron Smith, Kay Lehman Schlozman, Sidney Verba, Henry Brady
(Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project, 2009, pdf, 66pp/5MB)

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