PROceedings Paper Abstract

Caroline Tolbert, Karen Mossberger, Ramona McNeal. "Beyound the Digital Divide: Exploring Attitudes about Information Technology, Political Participation, and Electronic Government." Paper prepared for delivery at the 2002 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, Boston, August 29-September 1, 2002.

Paper (requires Acrobat Reader)

Keywords: Internet, digital democracy, E-government, political participation


Changes in information technology have the potential for impacting the way in which individuals participate in politics, such as future online voting and registration, and obtain information from government. Yet, because of unequal access to technology, the Internet may only increase turnout rates or information among those who are already predisposed to vote or become engaged, broadening the gulf between those groups that do and do not participate. Consistent with cross-national accounts of the digital divide (Norris 2001), our data on willingness to use information technology for political purposes reveals a democratic divide - individuals with higher education and income are more supportive of digital democracy, and are more likely to participate in politics online. Our research suggests the Internet may increase the participation gap based on education and income, while reducing the disparities in participation based on age. Overall support for different forms of political participation varied from a low of 48% for online voting, to a high of 78% for searching for government information online. Education emerged as the most important factors in the democratic divide. Support for online voting and online registration were 19 and 22 percentage points higher among individuals with a college degree compared to those with only a high school diploma, holding other factors constant. This mirrors existing disparities in civic participation, which are largely associated with educational differences. This suggests that in order to close the democratic divide in cyberspace, as well as traditional politics, education will be crucial as well as access to technology.

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