GW study reviews internet, politics

More than 35 percent of Americans used the internet to get news and information about the 2000 election, according to the latest study conducted by the Democracy Online Project, a study administered by the GW Graduate School of Political Management.

Created last October with a grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Democracy Online Project conducts studies on the growing connections between the internet and politics.

“Our original purpose was to establish a research base, to get people to start to think about the issues that would arise with the growth of the internet and the use of politics on the net,” said Michael Cornfield, head research director of the project.

Democracy Online completed its latest survey last November after the presidential election. More than 1,000 Americans answered a series of questions on how they used the internet during the campaigns to gain information on current events and political news.

The organization receives calls from reporters almost every day and many hits on its Web site, www.democracyonline.com, Cornfield said.

After comparing recent results with a similar study the group conducted in 1998, researchers saw an increase in the use of and reliance on the internet for political information.

The number of respondents who found the internet important grew from nine to 14 percent between 1998 and 2000, according to the study.

“For current events, I find myself using the internet a lot more than TV for information because I am already on the computer and I can get the news I want faster,” freshman Kareem Idrees said.

But the survey found a gender gap in the use of the internet for politics, as men outnumbered women by an 11 percent margin – 44 to 33 percent. The study also found that 54 percent of respondents used e-mail to trade jokes about the candidates, while only nine percent used it to send political information to others.

But some students said they remain skeptical about new technology and prefer more traditional sources of information.

“I still watch CNN at the Marvin Center and read The Hatchet for my news,” junior Jesus Campos said. “The internet is still too new and when I read articles on the net, they just don’t seem that reliable.”

The project’s initial 1998 grant was intended to last for two years, and the project is currently on hiatus awaiting additional grant money.

In addition to polling, Democracy Online has hosted a series of debates about the internet and its future in politics. Researchers also publishing two books on the subject, said Cornfield, who is also an adjunct associate research professor at GW’s Graduate School of Political Management.

Project coordinators hope to eventually create a forum in which policy advocates and policy makers can analyze and discuss issues before the public.

“We want to create a place where policies will incubate,” Cornfield said.

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