More Than Half of Voters Used Internet in 2008 Election

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More than half of all U.S. adults -- about 55% -- used the Internet to get news about or participate in the 2008 election, according to a Pew Internet & American Life Project report released Wednesday.

This marks the first time that more than half of the voting population used the Internet as part of the political process, said the Pew Research Center, a Washington D.S.-based think tank that oversees the project. In contrast, a poll taken just a year ago showed that 46% of Americans went online for political information and discussions.

President Barack Obama was a major proponent of using the Internet, and Web 2.0 tools in particular, to communicate with potential voters -- and to let them communicate with his campaign. During his campaign for president, Obama seemingly showed other politicians what it means to harness the power of the Web. The then-senator went beyond the somewhat static Web pages of most past campaigns and tapped the power of Web 2.0 tools, including Facebook, YouTube, blogs and discussion boards, to create a conversation with potential voters.

A lot of those efforts, whether from the Obama campaign or that of his Republican opponent John McCain, seemed to entice a lot of people to move their political attentions online. In fact, the report said that nearly one-fifth of the country's online users got political news on the Internet on a daily basis during the campaign, and 7% said they got online political news several times a day.

The Pew study also found that almost half of online users used five or more different types of online sites, including traditional media sites, as well as news portals, blogs and commentary sites, in last year's election.

But while Obama may have been using more Web 2.0 tools, the study found that a higher percentage of Republicans -- 83% -- used the Internet in some way during the last election process. About 76% of Democrats used the Internet. However, the online Democrats were more active in general, the study said, in posting comments, signing up to volunteer and making donations online, the study found.

"All told, the overall size of the political news audience has more than doubled since the 2000 elections," said Aaron Smith, a research specialist for the Pew Internet & American Life Project, in a statement. "As the overall size of the online political news audience has grown, the Internet has taken a front-and-center role within the media environment. Among the entire population, the Internet is now on par with newspapers as a major source of campaign news -- 26% of all adults get most of their election news from the Internet, compared with 28% who get their election news from newspapers -- although television remains the dominant source of political news in this country."

Pew also noted that many online users seem to be forgoing straight news coverage.

The study revealed that one-third of users get their information from Web sites that share their point of view, reported Smith. That number is up from 26% who said that in a 2004 poll.

Pew said the report is based on the results of a telephone poll of 2,254 American adults by Princeton Survey Research Associates International. The poll was conducted between November 20 to December 4, 2008.

This story, "More Than Half of Voters Used Internet in 2008 Election" was originally published by Computerworld.

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