State Legislators and the Digital Divide

While most of us are very aware of the Internet use by our Presidential candidates, especially after the success of Obama’s social media campaign in 2008, the Internet use by lower-level elected officials sometimes goes unnoticed by the everyday citizen. For this reason, Herrnson, Stokes-Brown, and Hindman (2007) chose to conduct a study analyzing the Internet use by candidates for lower-level offices and their reasons for using or for opting out of the Internet during their political campaigns.

The researchers discussed this notion of the digital divide, which they define as the gap in access to computers predicted mostly by age, socioeconomic states, and race. The “second-level” digital divide is the gap between skilled and unskilled users, and the “third-level” digital divide is the gap between the politically engaged and the politically indifferent (32). Prior to this study, the researchers believed that the digital divide would play a large role in influencing the degree to which the candidates used the Internet during their campaigns, but as the study revealed, while the digital divide did have a major impact on online campaigning, it had less to do with the digital divide than with strategic and structural factors, such as incumbency, campaign spending, electoral competitiveness, the number of people who lived in the district, and the professionalism of the legislature for which the candidate was campaigning (39). That being said, the researchers still found strong support for the impact of the digital divide and the degree to which the candidates used the Internet.

As evident with the Internet use in the Dean campaign, Dean initially had many supporters online, but they failed to follow through in the actual election. Could this failure have had something to do with the “third-level” digital divide that Herrnson et al. discuss in their research? Perhaps there was too great of a gap between the politically engaged and the politically indifferent for Dean’s campaign to be successful.

The question that arises from this study is whether or not there is still an issue with the digital divide today. Do you think the digital divide, including the levels discussed in the research, would still prevent candidates of lower-level offices from taking their campaign online? Or are we completely past this divide?

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1 Response to State Legislators and the Digital Divide

  1. arlaurin says:

    I do think the different levels of the digital divide discussed by Herrnson et al. will continue to prevent lower-level office candidates from taking their campaign online. By no means have we conquered this divide. I would especially like to point out the divide between the skilled and unskilled. I am interning at the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Regional Chamber where I often must answer the phones. Throughout the day, we have people call up with questions such as what hotels are in the area, what the phone number is for a restaurant, etc. These questions have nothing to do with what we are actually in charge of, but since many cannot navigate on the Internet still, they call us for an answer. Paper phone books are not around like they used to be, so the older generation often calls us with questions that could have been answered in those.

    So, one would understand why lower-level offices with older/less tech savvy constituents would not want to waste their time campaigning on the Internet. As each generation grows older, I believe this will change because the digital divide (of skilled and unskilled, not race in this scenario) will lessen.

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