Schlozman, Key Lehman, Sidney Verba, and Henry E. Brady. (2010). “Weapon of the Strong? Participatory Inequality and the Internet.” Perspectives on Politics 8 (2): 487-510. Accessed at http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=7804317. DOI: 10.1017/S1537592710001210
NOTE: This article is available at Purdue!
Purpose of the Research
The Internet has become an integral part of elections and campaigns. Since this is the case, social scientists have been attempting to understand its effects. The big question being posed in this article is about whether the effect of the Internet on political participation is consistent with older literature with respect to participatory inequality. Participatory inequality, is the idea that people who are more wealthy and have more time to research political information are more likely to vote. Also, does the hypothesized “digital divide” exist? The digital divide is the concept that those who use the Internet are distinctly different than those who are not, and that the move to these technologies leaves certain groups of people who do have access to these technologies are left behind.
The article is mostly explanatory, and evaluates the prospects of the Internet within the context of political participation. Schlozman, Verba, and Brady evaluate socioeconomic status, political financial contributions, and political engagements. Most of the analysis and statistical methods are trend analysis from surveys and prior public opinion research from Pew. In a similar context that has been seen in other political science work that has evaluated public opinion and public attitudes over time.
There is perhaps a digital divide due to who is using the Internet and that the engagement of political information is growing on the Internet. Despite this fact, they find there is little evidence to show that SES and political activity are any different on the Internet.
I sincerely and respectfully disagree with this study to an extent, however I think that Schlozman, Verba, and Brady have findings that merit consideration moving forward. The big point that I think Schlozman, Verba, and Brady that merits consideration is on the fact of the digital divide. There have been a plethora of studies that show there is a divide in who is using the Internet and who is not. In political science literature, younger individuals tend to hold more liberal opinions, which tend to become more conservative over time (Page and Shapiro 1992). There could be ideologically biases to the Internet as well.
Where I disagree is the effect the Internet has on voting. I think that the Internet helps voter turnout, because it lowers information gathering costs (Baek 2009). Because the Internet allows us to access information very quickly, learning about the issues is not as difficult as it may have been 30-40 years ago. Voting is economically costly. It has been long theorized that someone with low information gathering costs will be more likely to vote (Downs 1957). The only issue with this theory is that we should see increased voter turnout, and that has not quite happened. Despite this, it’s likely that the electorate is in fact more informed. This is a phenomena that is difficult to measure, and we may not be able to understand until there is more data-points available.
Baek, Miejong. 2009. “A Comparative Analysis of Political Communication Systems and Voter Turnout.” The American Journal of Political Science 53 (2): 376-393.
Downs, Anthony. (1957). An Economic Theory of Democracy. New York: Harper & Row.
Page, Benjamin I. and Robert Y. Shapiro. (1992). The Rational Public: Fifty Years of Trends in Americans’ Policy Preferences. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.