Study discovers ‘poli-fluentials’

This month, GW’s Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet released a new study that looked at the characteristics of the political junkies who will play an outsized role in the 2008 presidential and congressional elections.

“Poli-Fluentials: The New Political Kingmakers” sheds light on an increasingly large group of voters who identify themselves as online political junkies. The study has now dubbed them Poli-Fluentials, in recognition of their involvement in politics as well as their influence as outspoken opinion leaders among their families, friends, neighbors and colleagues.

“The goal of this study was to answer the main question that politicos today are asking – who are the voters that are most likely to be active, to donate, to volunteer and promote candidates in causes? What do they look like and how do we reach them?” said Carol Darr, former director of the institute and one of the study’s editors.

This study is a follow-up to the institute’s 2004 study, “Political Influentials Online in the 2004 Presidential Election.” The study was conducted through an online questionnaire, to which more 10,000 people responded.

“About 10 percent of the population is telling the other 90 percent what and who to vote for,” Darr said. “They know a lot of people and stay on top of communication technologies because that’s what they do, they communicate and connect with people. For young people, being active and politically inclined comes naturally because this new technology is intuitive.”

She said not only are technologically-savvy people more likely to vote, but that technology also spurs young people to vote.

“Young people have traditionally voted in smaller numbers than older people,” she said. “That is beginning to change and GW is at the forefront of trying to get young people to register and vote.”

She continued, “It ends up being a vicous cycle with candidates in that if young people don’t vote, the candidates don’t address their concerns. If they don’t address their concerns, young people don’t vote. You’ve got to get out of that cycle and get them registering and voting, and new technology will certainly help that.”

Julie Germany, deputy director of IPDI, said it is not just younger generations that are keeping up with technology, as the study found one of the largest populations of technology users is in the 45 to 60 age bracket.

“Young voters have the capacity to play a major role in the 2008 election – as volunteers, activists and voters,” she said. “But young people are not the only ones that technology-driven campaigns are targeting.”

Tanya Choudhury, president of the College Democrats, said she agreed that the most effective way to reach college-age voters is via technology.

“Our generation of voters has always been fascinated with politics. Technology has just made it easier for us to access political information and to express our own views and biases,” she said. “That’s just the way we communicate, and politicians are beginning to understand that.”

“Ofte, the party faithful is divided between activists and donors,” said Peter Glessing, public relations director for the College Republicans. “Clearly, that is not the case anymore. Individuals see that they have a stake in the political process and are doing the most they can to make a difference.

He continued, “As time goes on, we will see campaigns focusing just as much time on promoting their candidate via the Internet as they are through television and print media.”

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