Americans relying more on Net for political news

Use of the Internet as a primary source of political news has doubled since 2002, according to a recent study by the Pew Research Center.

Candace Lombardi
Candace Lombardi
In a software-driven world, it's easy to forget about the nuts and bolts. Whether it's cars, robots, personal gadgetry or industrial machines, Candace Lombardi examines the moving parts that keep our world rotating. A journalist who divides her time between the United States and the United Kingdom, Lombardi has written about technology for the sites of The New York Times, CNET, USA Today, MSN, ZDNet, Silicon.com, and GameSpot. She is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not a current employee of CNET.
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About a third of Americans used the Internet to find political news or exchange views over e-mail during the 2006 midterm election campaigns, according to a Pew Internet & American Life Project report released Wednesday.

Additionally, the number of Americans who said the Internet was their primary political news source doubled: it was 15 percent during the 2006 midterm election campaigns, compared with 7 percent during the 2002 midterms. Compared with the last presidential election year, however, 2006 numbers were down slightly, the study found (click for PDF). About 18 percent of Americans used the Internet as a primary source during the 2004 presidential election campaign, according to Pew Internet, the nonprofit research arm of the Washington, D.C.-based Pew Research Center.

"All of this is a harbinger in what will happen in a very interesting and highly contested presidential election in 2008. It's the first time since 1952 that we have had both parties wide open--no VPs or presidents running for re-election or higher office," said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

"Both parties are up for grabs and in flux, and the tech flux is also changing," Rainie said. "All of these will combine for a lot of activity online. This is how and why the Internet will be important both to candidates and political activists."

Among those Americans who went to the Internet for political news during the 2006 election, 60 percent used news portals and traditional news Web sites, while 19 percent said they got information from "news satire Web sites like The Onion or The Daily Show."

For the first time, Pew Internet also asked about user-generated political content, including blogs and videos.

Twenty-three percent of those who used the Internet as a source for political news generated or distributed political content themselves.

Among those who generated political content, 13 percent forwarded or posted someone else's political commentary; 8 percent posted their own political commentary to a newsgroup, Web site or blog; 8 percent forwarded or posted another's podcast or video content; and 1 percent made their own political podcasts or videos.

The Internet is also heating up as a place for politicians to make contact with potential voters. Former North Carolina Democratic Sen. John Edwards announced his 2008 presidential run over e-mail instead of on a television talk show, and Illinois Democratic Sen. Barack Obama put a video on his Web site announcing that he was forming an exploration committee, Rainie pointed out.

"The story (that the numbers tell) is about how broadband connections matter to all kinds of thinking online, including people's civic lives and the rhythm of their public participation," Rainie said.

The study is based on information gathered in telephone interviews with 2,562 adults aged 18 or older. The survey was conducted between November 8 and December 4, 2006.