POLL: Politics and the Internet Meet in the Rise of the Wired Electorate

Given all these activities, the Internet's role in decision-making has grown. Among people who go online for political news and information, 64 percent call it an important source of information in their ultimate vote choice — up from 52 percent in 2004. And again there's a difference by age: Among under-30s in the online politics population, far more, 80 percent, say it's important in their decision-making.

MULTISOURCING — The Internet to a large extent is being used as an additional information source, not a replacement one. Among people who go online for political information, many also use other political news sources — television (77 percent), newspapers (63 percent), radio (55 percent) and magazines (35 percent). Use of these sources is at similar levels whether or not people go online.

Still, while multiple sources are used, there are differences in extent or frequency of use. People who go online for political news and information are much more likely to cite this as one of their two main sources of election news (44 percent, rising to 57 percent of those younger than 30), and less apt than others to cite television as a main source (57 percent).

Use of the Internet for political news and information in some cases means using traditional media outlets online — more for television sources than for newspapers. Asked the top few Web sites they use for election news, 37 percent mention cable TV Web sites and an additional 33 percent mention network news Web sites; 10 percent mention newspaper Web sites. News portals, which link to any of an array of primary sources, are cited by 31 percent. (Multiple answers were accepted.)

EASE and TRUST — Using the Internet is about convenience and content alike. Among those who go online for political information, 52 percent say convenience is the chief reason; 34 percent say it's either because other sources don't give them the information they want or because the Internet offers information that's not available elsewhere.

Still, trust and confidence in the traditional news media is as high among the online political population (62 percent) as it is among other Americans (and, contrary to conventional wisdom, actually peaks among under-30s). The difference runs in the other direction: Trust in so-called "new media" sources on the Internet is nearly 20 points lower among people who don't go online for political information (43 percent) than among those who do. It's lower still, 31 percent, among those who are offline entirely.

In an even bigger gap, online users of political information are much more likely than other Americans to say the Internet plays a positive role in election campaigns, 71 percent to 29 percent.

Convenience, meanwhile, shows up in another finding, on usability: Eighty-one percent in the online political population say they generally can find what they're looking for on the Internet, up from 70 percent in 2004.

AGE and ATTITUDES — The online political population, as noted, is comparatively young — 71 percent are younger than 50 (compared with half of other adults) and nearly a third are younger than 30 (compared with 17 percent of other adults). Just 7 percent are older than 65, compared with 26 percent of other adults. (Among the 27 percent of adults who don't use the Internet at all, 43 percent are seniors.)

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