Thursday, January 18, 2007

Pew Survey: Politics and the Internet

The Pew Internet Survey has a report out on the 2006 election and the use of the internet by voters. Micah L.Sifry of Personal Democracy Forum has a summary and analysis of some of the results:
* More than 60 million people (31% of all Americans online) say they were online during the 2006 campaign to get information about candidates and/or exchange views via email. They call this growing group "campaign internet users." This group trends young (duh); wealthy; well-educated; and somewhat more white than of color (33% of white Americans vs 23% of blacks and Hispanics).

(snip)

* By far the most interesting discovery from their survey: 23% of campaign internet users has either posted their own political commentary to the web via a blog, site or newsgroup (8%); forwarded or posted someone else's commentary (13%); created political audio or video (1%); forwarded someone else's audio or video (8%). "That translates into about 14 million people who were using the 'read-write Web' to contribute to political discussion and activity," the study's authors Lee Rainie and John Horrigan write.

* This group, which Pew labels "online political activists," is disproportionately liberal. "Some 15% of internet users who describe themselves as liberals are such online activists, compared with 9% of online conservatives," Rainie and Horrigan note.

(snip)

* The most common use of the net is to find out candidate positions on issues or voting records, followed by efforts to check the accuracy of claims made by them or about them.

* While campaign internet users and the more intensely engaged subgroup of online political activists tend to go often to sites that share their point of view, that behavior is by no means dominant. Between a fifth and a quarter of those groups say they also use sites that "challenge my point of view."

(snip)

...I must say that I am not surprised by the size of the "online political activist" pool. Seasoned web organizers like Zack Exley have tried to estimate the size of the Democratic-left online base using cumulative email list totals from various sources and come up with numbers like eight to ten million, if memory serves. I'd say the Republican online base is probably as big on paper, but given the GOP's tendency to append email addresses to its lists, rather than grow them organically, the active online rightwing is probably not as big as the left. Fourteen million adults seems like a reasonable estimate.

Sifry does an excellent job. I have one problem with the analysis though. I'm a liberal but I wish Sifry had written more about moderates who are becoming the real power in politics these days, and clearly make the difference in election results.

Of those who are politically active and use the internet, the Pew survey had this breakdown:

Liberals 19%
Conservatives 39%
Moderates 42%

I haven't done a survey but it seems to me the number of blogs by moderates has grown in the last couple of years. The internet gives moderates the chance to stake out some territory. On the other hand, there's been a lot of healthy collaboration between liberals and moderates of late. And there are rational conservatives like John Dean who adds very useful insights about the powers of the presidency and other issues.

The good thing is that right wing conservatives and their money machine no longer are getting the traction that they have had for over twenty-five years. But there are many issues to be worked out over the next few election cycles. The old bipartisanship that we saw in earlier decades has somewhat broken down, at least for now, but the media may be missing the big story that there may be a bipartisan dialogue going on in the background that could be shaping where politics goes in the coming years.

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2 Comments:

Anonymous S.W. Anderson said...

I'm going to start by admitting I've had a busy day and am a bit tired this evening. Still, my second and third reading of this continues raising a red flag.

"While campaign internet users and the more intensely engaged subgroup of online political activists tend to go often to sites that share their point of view, that behavior is by no means dominant. Between a fifth and a quarter of those groups say they also use sites that 'challenge my point of view.'"

So, four-fifths to three-fourths don't claim to visit sites that challenge their view, but Sifry adjudges the behavior of the one-fifth and one-quarter who do to be dominant?

As the pinball machine said, "Tilt!"

7:41 PM  
Blogger Craig said...

S.W., yeah, Sifry's use of the word 'dominant' is clumsy. But I'm always going back to correct my own rhetorical excesses and probably miss a few from time to time.

I don't agree with everything Sifry says and that's why I mentioned the breakdown by percentage of liberals, moderates and conservatives.

The main thing is what the Pew survey itself says.

12:00 AM  

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