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Pew: More Americans Engage in Politics Online Than Don't

BY Nancy Scola | Friday, April 17 2009

For the very first time in the recorded history of all of humanity, the 2008 election saw adult Americans who went online to engage in the political process outnumber those who didn't. Pew's Internet & American Life Project has a new report out that finds a full 55% of American grown-ups got on the Internet to get news about politics or the campaign (60% of adult Americans did this in '08), talk about politics with others (38%), or use specific tools -- i.e. Twitter, IM, email -- to send or receive messages about politics (59%).

One finding that jumps out from the Pew report is that Americans are trending towards relying upon sites for news and commentary that share their political perspective. In 2004, 26% of people who go online for politics reported that most of the sites they visit are in line with their political point of view, rather than a neutral source. In 2008, that moved up seven notches to 33%. The numbers are more striking for younger folk. In 2004, 22% of online users between the ages of 18 and 24 reported that a majority of the sites they visited shared their point of view. This cycle, that nearly doubled to 43%.

But that doesn't necessarily mean we're all wallowing in a pit of likemindedness. It might, instead, just mark the fact that we're consuming news for more sources. Even if I obsessively read the (objectively non-partisan) New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post online everyday, I'd only have to hit four ideological blogs in a day to make "most" of my sources slanted ones.

Here's another statistic from the Pew report that might catch your attention: supporters of John McCain were more likely than supporters of Barack Obama to be Internet users, 83% to 76%. Pew attributes that to the finding that Republicans tend to be wealthier and more highly educated than Democrats -- both strong predictors of Internet use.

The full report is here.