Is the Internet making a difference to the 2008 election?

[Cross-posted on Berkman's Internet & Democracy blog]

A recent survey by the Wall Street Journal/NBC/MySpace of newly registered voters and lapsed voters has shown that the Internet keeps playing an important role in the current campaign, especially amongst younger people; however, the effect which online news will have on actual voter turnout remains to be seen.

Newly registered voters are those who either registered for the first time, or who skipped the 2004 election and have now registered again. The sample is thus overwhelmingly made up of young people (three quarters).

The survey shows some interesting findings on the use of new media to access and share information about the campaign by new voters compared to the population of all voters. While accessing information online was pretty similar amongst the two groups: 36% of new voters visited an official candidate’s website compared to 33% of all voters;28% of new voters watched a YouTube video on the campaign compared to 22% of all voters – active information sharing was higher amongst new voters: 25% of new voters sent an SMS message regarding the campaign compared to 16% of all voters; 21% of new voters joined an online social networking group for the campaign via either MySpace or Facebook compared to only 8% of all voters.

These data supports the idea that online social networking sites and Web 2.0 applications are facilitating or enhancing young people’s participation in politics; however, whether this will translate into offline participation is a question which remains to be tested. Offline participation in a rally or demonstration to support a candidate was very low amongst both new voters (5%) and all voters (9%).  Similarly, volunteering for the campaign was also pretty low amongst both groups (6% of new voters vs. 9% of all voters). Furthermore, when asked about how interested respondents were about the upcoming election, 49% of new voters said they were very interested compared to 70% of all voters, and only 54% said they will definitely vote.

The question which remains to be asked is the following: is online campaigning and activism replacing old fashioned, face-to-face door-to-door campaigning? And if so, is it qualitatively different and what will this mean for the democratic process? Stay tuned.

Full report and commentary available here.

About Corinna

Corinna di Gennaro (BSc LSE; MPhil, DPhil, Oxon) is a Fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, at Harvard Law School.
This entry was posted in All, Political Participation, Social Media, US elections. Bookmark the permalink.

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