Survey: How Many Voters Use the Internet in Elections?

Survey: How Many Voters Use the Internet in Elections? – Brief Article

Ron Faucheux

It is estimated that about 30 million adult Americans spend 83.2 hours a year looking for political information on the Internet, for a total of nearly 250 million hours — an incredible amount of time that offers great possibilities for the future.

A MAJORITY OF AMERICANS now think the Internet is an important source of election information. In fact, only one in five adults think the Internet is “not at all important” when it comes to elections. These findings are from a nationwide poll recently taken (March 15-27, 2000; 1,005 sample) by Yankelovich Partners for The Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University.

In the survey, 19 percent of the respondents said the Internet is a “very important” source of information when it comes to voting for candidates running for public office, and another 32 percent said it is a “somewhat important” source. Eighteen percent said it was “not very important” and 21 percent said it was “not at all important.”

Given the novelty of the Web for so many people over 18 who have only just started experimenting with online surfing, the fact that a full majority of them are even willing to tell a pollster that they view the Internet as an important source for political information is a significant discovery, indeed. It foreshadows central changes in the way mass media is used in electoral politics.

According to the American University poll, nearly half of those interviewed (49 percent) said they currently use the Internet. Of those, 29 percent say they currently use the Web to access information about politics, candidates or political campaigns. This proportion equates to about 30 million adults who say they use the Internet for politics. This number — already a substantial share of the population — will likely grow rapidly.

The fact that about three times as many people view the Internet as an important source of election information as those who currently use the Internet to access information about politics provides an indication of the potential growth explosion ahead. That’s because people who see the importance of the Internet today are more likely to use it tomorrow.

The survey found that political Internet users are more likely to vote than those who aren’t. Forty-four percent of respondents who use the Internet to access electoral information are likely voters, while 22 percent are not likely voters. (In the poll, likely voters are defined as adults who are “registered to vote, pay quite a bit or a great deal of attention to the presidential campaign, usually vote in presidential elections and say they will definitely vote in this year’s presidential election.”)

The poll also found that political Web watchers spend an average of 1.6 hours per week online accessing information about politics, candidates or political campaigns. Interestingly, 49 percent of them say they spend over one hour per week, and 35 percent say over two hours, on their searches. An extrapolation of these findings means that about 30 million adult Americans would spend 83.2 hours a year looking for political information on the Internet, for a total of nearly 250 million hours — an incredible sum that offers great possibilities for the future. Huge as this number is, it is likely to rise even higher during the national party conventions and as election day nears.

Further findings of the survey show that six in 10 Americans (61 percent) think they will use the Internet in some way to involve themselves in this year’s election, either by receiving information or by “chatting” with other people or a candidate. Significant numbers say they expect to forward voting-related information via e-mail (18 percent), volunteer for a campaign (5 percent) or donate money to a candidate (3 percent).

Don’t let the 3 percent number of those who say they will use the Internet to donate money fool you. That may not seem like a large amount, but it equates to about 1 million people who anticipate making a political contribution online this year. That’s a sizable number.

American opinion is split on whether the Internet should be used to register voters. While 42 percent favor the idea, 44 percent don’t. There is a wide generational gap on this question, with 60 percent of 18- to 35-year-olds saying online voter registration is a good idea and 25 percent of those over 50 agreeing.

Actual online voting, however, receives less support. Only about a third of those surveyed (32 percent) think Internet voting is a good idea. Fear of fraud drives this result. Despite that fear, a significant number of Americans say they would either register to vote online (28 percent) or actually vote online (25 percent) if given the chance. As you’d expect, Internet users were much more likely to say they would register (40 percent vs. 17 percent) and vote (36 percent vs. 15 percent) via the Internet than nonusers.

Ron Faucheux is editor-in-chief of Campaigns & Elections.

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