The Internet - Political Turn-On or Turn-off? John Curtice Strathclyde University/ National Centre for Social Research
The Project • Modules on British Social Attitudes 2003 and 2005; plus previous info from 2000 • Examine relationship between internet use and (1) political engagement, (2) social capital • Main N=3297 (2003); 3167 (2005) • 2005 module fielded after general election
The Structure • Has access to the internet helped to increase the political engagement of individual voters? • What role did the internet play in the dissemination of information in the 2005 election?
A turned on voter… • …trusts politicians & government • …participates in politics
Why might internet turn people on? • Greater transparency and availability of information • Lower cost - do it from home • Lower cost - easier to organise • Easier to find fellow adherents
The Problem • If at one point in time internet users are more trusting and/or active… • …is that because they use the internet • or, because they were more trusting and/or active in the first place?
Conclusion • (Already) politically active were early internet adopters and use it as one way of pursuing their interest • But internet does not (substantially) increase how many people are politically ‘engaged’
But does this miss the point? • Argument assumes that internet only has a direct impact • website -> user • Possibility of two-step flow. • website -> user -> others • Fragmentation means two-step flows now only way any medium has an impact?
Conclusion • Still the case that few people use the internet to find out about politics • Those that do are mostly the usual suspects • Nevertheless digital users are particularly talkative - and so add a little more to the two-step flow of information