New research shows that the Internet is opening up politics to young people in Britain and it could help to engage more of them with the political process, according to a study by a team at the University of Salford, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council through its Democracy and Participation Programme.The research is the first major study into how UK political organisations use the Internet to improve political participation. Its findings will be presented at an ESRC conference on public participation to be held in London today.
The researchers looked at how British political parties, pressure groups – including trade unions – new social movements and protest networks used technology to reach new supporters. They used an NOP poll of almost two thousand people to assess the extent to which they would get involved in politics via the Internet. The survey found that while only 11 per cent of 45-54 year olds with access to the Internet had visited a political or campaigning website, signed an e-petition or joined a political chatroom, the figure rose to 30 per cent among those aged from 15 to 24.
The study found that the Internet was also engaging the existing membership of organisations like the Countryside Alliance, where over 60 per cent of members use the Internet regularly. A third of Countryside Alliance members also said the website helped them decide to join the organisation’s big London march in 2002.
Dr Stephen Ward, co-author of the report said that though e-politics still had some way to go, they had found significant evidence that the Internet helped to engage more young people in active politics and campaigning. “That has important lessons for parties and pressure groups which worry that today’s young people are an apathetic generation. They need to reach them in new ways,” he said.
Meanwhile more research backed by the Democracy and Participation Programme has found that black and ethnic minority voters are more actively involved in British political life than has been assumed. The study by the Centre for Urban and Community Research based at Goldsmith’s College, the University of London and City University in London, revealed that their involvement is more likely to be in single-issue campaigns than formal party politics.
The research team conducted interviews with political activists in eight different organisations, and with those involved in more formal politics in Birmingham and the London Boroughs of Tower Hamlets and Lewisham for their study.