Is the political divide being perpetuated by digital divide?

Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor on

Attention all of those working on Smart Cities initiatives: When it comes to civic government, many have hoped that online access to resources would increase involvement regardless of age, gender or ethnic demographic. But a new report from the Pew Research Center called "The Internet and Civic Engagement," finds that many of the same patterns chronicled in "real life" are being mirrored with online involvement.

Apparently, the "wealthy" or "well-educated" continue to be the most active.

But, the report's authors still hold hope that over time, this will change, which is important for those planning Smart Cities or Smart government initiatives.

That's because, demographically speaking, younger adults are becoming more politically active on blogs and social networking sites. Of the approximately 19 percent of individuals that have been politically active on some sort of civic site, a significant number are young adults. And, those that tend to become active online tend, ultimately, to become involved offline, too. All this data is attributable to a Pew report conducted in August 2008.

Consider the following:

  • 61 percent of online participants had signed a petition, vs. 32 percent of all adults
  • 56 percent of people that participate online are part of a civic or political group, compared with 36 percent of all adults
  • 50 percent of online participants had reached out directly to a government official, vs. 30 percent of all adults
  • 81 percent of those who are active online have made a political contribution in the last 12 months, and one-third specifically donated to a party or candidate

As I just noted, these stats are based on research conducted in August 2008 at the height of a very contentious Presidential campaign. Approximately 2,251 adults were surveyed by Pew as part of a national telephone poll. I'll bet if that poll was taken now, in September 2009, the results would be different. That's because younger folks always seem to be more active according to the political cycles, while those of us with more to lose (as in money) tend to squawk more when the economy turns sour.

Personally speaking, I don't ever think that will change, regardless of how democratic political access and activity might become in the digital, smart planet age.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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