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SGER: Participatory Democracy and Information Technology: The Use of The Internet in American Elections.      (Back to Search Results)

Primary Investigator:
Olivia Bonnie

Researchers
Olivia Bonnie

Technology:

Government Domain:

Primary Institution:
U of Cal Irvine

Project Home Page:
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Abstract:
Rates of voter participation have declined dramatically in the United States to the point where only half the electorate voted in the last presidential election. Recent events suggest that the use of the Internet may reverse this trend. While technology alone cannot reinvigorate democracy, as a tool in the hands of committed people, it is poised to make a significant difference in engaging Americans in the political process. In 2003, the Internet was used extensively in Howard Dean's campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination thousands of enthusiastic supporters conducted a variety of campaign activities via the Dean website and millions of dollars were raised. The research will contribute to assessing the impact of e-democracy on the larger political arena. Internet tools including email, blogging, chat, electronic fundraising, specialized websites for campaign organizing, and campaign archives will be analyzed to learn how they were used to engage voters and support the campaign. Using grounded theory, the research will utilize audiotaped interviews and observations of key campaign personnel and supporters as well as descriptive statistics on use of each of the tools. Understanding how new technical tools can shape democracy is a critical question for the future of representative democracy. The United States came a hair's breadth from electing a president with less than half the electorate participating. New means of communicating with voters, and encouraging their participation are needed. Such tools appear to be emerging as part of the Internet landscape. With an extensive background in the study of computer-mediated communication, the PI will be able to make a significant contribution to understanding the broader social impacts of Internet tools in reaching out to voters and engaging wider democratic participation.