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How the Internet Affects Political Communication of Individuals - A Longitudinal Survey of Onliners and Offliners
Unformatted Document Text:  ICA-6-10602 2 1. Theoretical Background: Inclusion in or Exclusion from the Political System? Four years ago Dick Morris, one of Bill Clintons spin doctors, saw the United States on the way from James Madison towards Thomas Jefferson, from representative democracy to direct democracy, with the Internet serving as a catalyst (Morris 1999). Al Gore and others tried to "re-invent governance" by means of the Internet, thus creating some sort of "new Athenian age" of democracy (Gore 1995). Today such enthusiasm seems somehow exaggerated. The Internet fell short of many expectations not only economically. Now we have the chance to take a restrained look at the Internet to calculate costs and benefits from online communication - even in the field of politics. First we want to specify the three levels on which an impact of the Internet in this field may be considered: • a macro-level approach considers the use of the Internet by states ("e-governance"). • a meso-level approach considers the use of the Internet by political organizations ("virtual parties") • a micro-level approach considers the use of the Internet by individual citizens ("e- democracy") In our presentation we deal only with micro-level consequences of Internet usage. Our focus is on the individual activities people take to communicate politically. This includes reception of political media as well as talks about politics and showing of ones own opinion in public (in a demonstration for example). What are the common assumptions about consequences of internet usage on political communication? The literature provides a first position that ascribes a "mobilizing function" to the Internet (Schwartz 1996; Rheingold 1994, Grossman 1995). This position expects a higher frequency and a higher intensity in political communication among Internet users than among non-users. It expects also that the Internet may include even those parts of the population who can’t be reached by traditional channels of political communication. The public and scientific discussion is dominated by this "hypothesis of inclusion": The Internet intensifies political communication and thus leads to a growing integration of citizens into the

Authors: Emmer, Martin. and Vowe, Gerhard.
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ICA-6-10602
2
1. Theoretical Background: Inclusion in or Exclusion from the Political
System?

Four years ago Dick Morris, one of Bill Clintons spin doctors, saw the United States on the
way from James Madison towards Thomas Jefferson, from representative democracy to direct
democracy, with the Internet serving as a catalyst (Morris 1999). Al Gore and others tried to
"re-invent governance" by means of the Internet, thus creating some sort of "new Athenian
age" of democracy (Gore 1995).
Today such enthusiasm seems somehow exaggerated. The Internet fell short of many
expectations not only economically. Now we have the chance to take a restrained look at the
Internet to calculate costs and benefits from online communication - even in the field of
politics.
First we want to specify the three levels on which an impact of the Internet in this field may
be considered:
a macro-level approach considers the use of the Internet by states ("e-governance").
a meso-level approach considers the use of the Internet by political organizations ("virtual
parties")
a micro-level approach considers the use of the Internet by individual citizens ("e-
democracy")
In our presentation we deal only with micro-level consequences of Internet usage. Our focus
is on the individual activities people take to communicate politically. This includes reception
of political media as well as talks about politics and showing of ones own opinion in public
(in a demonstration for example).
What are the common assumptions about consequences of internet usage on political
communication? The literature provides a first position that ascribes a "mobilizing function"
to the Internet (Schwartz 1996; Rheingold 1994, Grossman 1995). This position expects a
higher frequency and a higher intensity in political communication among Internet users than
among non-users. It expects also that the Internet may include even those parts of the
population who can’t be reached by traditional channels of political communication. The
public and scientific discussion is dominated by this "hypothesis of inclusion": The Internet
intensifies political communication and thus leads to a growing integration of citizens into the


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