October 27, 2010
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
MEDIA CONTACTS: Emily Cain
Citizen Use of Digital Media to Connect with Government Yields a Mixed Picture
After more than decade of using the Internet to communicate, half of American voters use websites to reach out to governments on all levels. But far fewer have embraced government’s adoption of the more sophisticated Web 2.0 technologies such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter in the last two years, according to the latest POLITICO-George Washington University Battleground Poll. The ongoing
research is being conducted by two GW professors: Albert May of the School of Media and Public Affairs and Christopher Arterton of the Graduate School of Political Management.
Despite government’s efforts to efforts to communicate with citizens through these so-called Web 2.0 technologies, they have reached only about a fifth of voters through online video and 13 percent through the more interactive social media such as Facebook and Twitter. The results suggest that citizens are not yet as enthusiastic about using Web 2.0 to interact with elected and other government officials as the officials are with them.
Young and better educated voters remain the most frequent users of online tools to communicate with government on the new technologies but large majorities of Americans have never viewed a governmental online video (72 percent) or used a social media site (85 percent), the poll found. The survey was conducted as part of the latest POLITICO-George Washington University Battleground Poll under the joint sponsorship with GW’s Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet (IPDI) and GW’s Global Media Institute. Likely voters in the 2010 midterm elections were asked about their Internet communication with government as part of the larger survey, which was conducted from Oct. 17 to Oct. 20 with 1,000 respondents. The survey has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points, plus or minus.
Governmental websites, which emerged in the mid-1990s and have become ubiquitous at all levels, have become a significant communication channel between citizens and their local, state and federal governments. Almost a fifth of voters said many times they have used government websites to get information, fill out forms and access other services. Four in ten said they occasionally access government website, and just over a third (35 percent) said they had never used a government website.
The use of government websites cuts across all age groups with the exception of those over 60 years of age who still lag. A digital divide remains with black voters still less likely to visit government websites, including over half (54 percent) reporting they had never visited one. Although there was no significant difference among Republicans, Democrats and Independents, rural America trails the rest of the country by about 10 percentage points.
Web 2.0, or sometimes called Gov 2.0, has reached much smaller groups of voters, although the medium itself is only roughly five years old and government adoption has accelerated in the last two years. Government has embraced the new medium, particularly on the federal level. Ongoing research by the Institute for Democracy and the Internet has found that the Congress is nearing full adoption of some form of Web 2.0. As of July, 2010, only four senators and 32 House members lacked an official presence on YouTube, Facebook or Twitter. Nine of ten individual members had YouTube channels, two-thirds hosted Facebook pages and half were on Twitter.
Upon taking office, President Obama launched an extensive effort to adopt the technologies not only in the White House but across the federal government. In a preliminary
report to Congress in July, the General Accountability Office, which is conducting a study of agency use of Web 2.0, reported that 22 of 24 major federal agencies had a presence on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. On the latter, a review in the same month by IPDI conducted by Professor May found that 124 civilian agencies had YouTube channels on the main government aggregator site run by the General Services Administration, with almost half of those channels launched since Obama took office.
The poll found, however, that only 5 percent of respondents had used an online video site like YouTube many times to watch a video by a member of Congress, government official or an agency in the last two years. Another 16 percent said they had done so occasionally. Seven of ten poll respondent said they had never watched such a video. When it comes to the 2010 elections, moreover, the poll found that voters used Web 2.0
at similar levels to their interaction with government agencies and officials. A fifth of likely
voters reported watching a video about a political candidate on an Internet site like YouTube,
including 4 percent who reported doing so “many times.” And, social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook generated even lower levels of engagement, with just 2 percent reporting using such websites many times and another 7 percent saying “occasionally.”
Age makes a difference in online consumption of both government and political video, with the voters under 30 roughly doubling the consumption of all age groups above them. Education level is also associated with a difference such that college educated voters run 10 points ahead of those with no college. Rural voters also lagged by a similar amount. Despite a major effort by congressional Republicans to close the gap with the social media pioneering Democrats led by Obama, partisanship made no significant difference on video usage, as it did
with the use of other Web 2.0 technologies.
While Facebook and Twitter are considered more interactive than YouTube, the social media connection to significant number of Americans is still in its infancy. Only 3 percent of respondents reported many contacts with an elected official such as Facebook or Twitter. One
in 10 reported occasional contact, and fully 85 percent of voters had never had such contact.
Like with online video, age primarily and education to a lesser extent drove social media consumption as it relates to government. One in 10 of voters under age 30 reported having frequent contacts with an elected official via social media, which is roughly triple the number of
older cohorts. Another quarter of younger voters reported doing so occasionally.
The poll suggest that similar to our experience with the developing us of websites, the adoption of Web 2.0 remains a slower process than advocates of the adoption might have
hoped, but it would appear that maturation of the voting populace is on their side.
View the full results of the poll in this PDF
← Back to SMPA News