Perspectives on Politics

Research Article

Weapon of the Strong? Participatory Inequality and the Internet

Kay Lehman Schlozmana1, Sidney Verbaa2 and Henry E. Bradya3

a1 Boston College

a2 Harvard University

a3 University of California, Berkeley

Abstract

What is the impact of the possibility of political participation on the Internet on long-standing patterns of participatory inequality in American politics? An August 2008 representative survey of Americans conducted by the Pew Internet and American Life Project provides little evidence that there has been any change in the extent to which political participation is stratified by socio-economic status, but it suggests that the web has ameliorated the well-known participatory deficit among those who have just joined the electorate. Even when only that subset of the population with Internet access is considered, participatory acts such as contributing to candidates, contacting officials, signing a political petition, or communicating with political groups are as stratified socio-economically when done on the web as when done offline. The story is different for stratification by age where historically younger people have been less engaged than older people in most forms of political participation. Young adults are much more likely than their elders to be comfortable with electronic technologies and to use the Internet, but among Internet users, the young are not especially politically active. How these trends play out in the future depends on what happens to the current Web-savvy younger generation and the cohorts that follow and on the rapidly developing political capacities of the Web. Stay logged on …

Kay Lehman Schlozman is J.Joseph Moakley Endowed Professor of Political Science at Boston College (kschloz@bc.edu).

Sidney Verba is the Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor of Government Emeritus at Harvard University (sverba@harvard.edu).

Henry E. Brady is the Class of 1941 Monroe Deutsch Professor of Political Science and Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and the Dean of Berkeley's Goldman School of Public Policy (hbrady@berkeley.edu).

Footnotes

The authors are very grateful to Lee Rainie and Scott Keeter of the Pew Internet and American Life Project for having responded to the suggestion about the importance of collecting systematic national data comparing online and offline participation, for allowing them to be partners in the design of the questionnaire, and for making those data available. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the Annual Meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, Chicago, IL, April 2–5, 2009.

A list of permanent links to supplementary materials provided by the authors precedes the references section.

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