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Sometimes we hear voices saying that internet organizing will allow low income people to participate more in politics and their community - lowering barriers of entry and improving debate. It looks like that this isn´t exactly right, and online political involvement looks a lot like, well, offline political involvement, demographics wise. Worth knowing, and worth discussing -  John Sides:

The Internet provides people new ways in which to participate in politics.  But does it help new kinds of people participate in politics?  That is the question addressed in a new paper by Kay Lehman SchlozmanSidney Verba and Henry Brady.  (A gated version is here.  An earlier, ungated version is here.)

Schlozman, Verba and Brady want to know whether political participation on the Internet is less stratified by the usual factors, especially socioeconomic status (SES) and age.  Using a 2008 survey, they asked respondents whether they had taken a series of on- and off-line political actions, such as signing a petition or contacting a representative -- and they then compared the percentage of actions taken by respondents of different SES levels and ages.

The graph above shows the amount of political activity for different levels of SES.  Online political activity is as stratified by socioeconomic status as is off-line activity.  The line for "offline act" ascends about as steeply as the line for "online act."  And this is not simply a function of Internet access -- i.e., the "digital divide."  The line for online acts among Web users ascends almost as steeply.  A similar finding emerges when the focus is donations to campaigns.  Those donating online are doing so in smaller amounts, but these small donors are no less affluent than small donors giving offline.

Online political participation is less stratified by age, as young people are, unsurprisingly, more likely than older Americans to participate in this way.  However, this is due almost entirely to the digital divide: Among Web users, the young are actually slightly less participatory than seniors. 

Scholzman and colleagues conclude:

If we began this inquiry hopeful that the political possibilities of the Internet might disrupt long-standing patterns of participatory equality in American politics, what we have found has, by and large, showed these expectations to be unfounded.

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Replies to This Discussion


I agree that the internet is not presently a forum for lower income citizens to participate in politics. Let's face it, often people with lower incomes obviously do not have the means to purchase a computer or the time and inclination to use it for political participation. So, any suggestions on how to inspire more civic participation from the majority of the population?

Lee´s post above this one is excellent for that. We basically know two things about organizing. First, it doesn´t cost money. Second, it takes a lot of time. :-).

Basically the big bottleneck is having time to talk with people, educate them on an issue, and get them out. This is, even with the web, quite labor intensive - and it is harder to do with low income people, as their time is more valuable (they need to work more hours to get enough money to survive, for instance). It is not easy, but some people in the city are very good at it. Read Lee´s post!


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