Study Description

Online Politics and Young Voters 2006: The Use of Political Websites by American Youth and Effects on Political Engagement

Unique Identification Number: LA-166-001-1-1-United States-DISC-2006

Summary: This study explores how younger citizens interact with youth-oriented political portal websites during elections. Data are drawn from an experiment in which participants were instructed to use the Web to learn about issues and candidates related to the 2006 midterm elections. The primary objective of the study is to examine the effects of exposure to youth politics websites on the subjective experiences of participants, their ability to form opinions on political issues, and their attitudes toward the Internet as a political tool. The study also explores the extent to which these effects may be moderated by participants' pre-existing levels of interest in politics.

Methodology: 197 students enrolled in Communication Arts and Journalism courses were recruited to participate in this study. Students received extra credit (1% of their total grade) in return for their participation. Instructors also made arrangements for students to earn equivalent extra credit by participating in other activities. Participation in the study was completely voluntary.

During the sessions, subjects were told that they were involved in a study of the usefulness and informational value of websites offering information on politics in general and the upcoming elections in particular. Each session began with a question about their level of interest in politics. Later, participants were instructed to use the Web to familiarize themselves with issues and candidates related to that season's midterm elections, in preparation for questions they would be asked about those topics later in the session. Participants were randomly assigned to start their browsing sessions in one of three locations: www.rockthevote.com, www.newvotersproject.org, or www.google.com. Sessions lasted 8 minutes, and while participants were free to use links to navigate from their original starting points, the address bars were removed from the browsers and participants were instructed to fully explore whatever site they were initially taken to before venturing elsewhere.

The final portion of the sessions involved a questionnaire that included items that asked participants to rate their browsing session in terms of its usefulness, to offer their opinions on various items that would appear on official ballots in their area, and to respond to attitudinal batteries related to politics in general and the upcoming elections in particular.

Subject Area: Public Opinion on Political Matters, Political Participation

Date of Study: 2006

Geographic Coverage: Madison, Wisconsin, United States

Descriptors: Internet, online politics, political efficacy, youth

Bibliographic Citation: Online politics and young voters 2006: the use of political websites by American youth and effects on political engagement.  [machine-readable data file] / Michael A. Xenos [principal investigator] / Data and Information Services Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison [distributor].

Access Status: Unlimited access.

Documentation: Questionnaire in Microsoft Word format; codebook in ASCII format.

Acknowledgement of Funding: This research was made possible by a grant to the Principal Investigator from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Graduate School Research Committee.