In this week's Cybershake, we take a look at how the Net is broadening the political debate among Web-surfing Americans. Plus, we take note of a Web site that offers non-partisan information on all the candidates and issues that U.S. voters will need to know for the Nov. 2 elections.
The Internet has become an increasingly important part of American politics -- especially among the electorate.
According to the Pew Research Center for The People & The Press, more than 40 percent of American Internet users have gotten political material on the presidential candidates during this election year. That's more than 50 percent higher than the number of Net users who did so in 2000.
"People who use the Internet -- and especially broadband users -- know more about the candidates; know more about the issues than those who do not use the Internet," says Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project. "This is a very good news story for democracy."
And the latest survey from the non-profit research initiative of the Pew research Center, shows U.S. Web surfers aren't just logging in for information to reinforce their own personal viewpoints.
For example, one in 10 respondents said they were more aware of the negative criticisms than the positive attributes of their candidate of choice.
"They are not using the Internet to screen away information that they disagree with," says Rainie. "They're more familiar with all sorts of arguments, including stuff that they really don't like."
Rainie says most people want unbiased information. But "About a fifth of Americans -- 18 percent -- said they prefer media sources that challenge their biases," he says. Web sites of international news organizations, such as al Jazeera or the BBC, are typical online source of information for these respondents.
But about 30 percent of respondents overall said they have gone to other non-traditional news sources, such as NewsMax.com and MoveOn.org, for information.
Among respondents with broadband connections, 31 percent said that the Net has become their primary news source. But even in the age of fast Net setups, television still reigns -- for now.
"Just like it's been for several generations, TV is the dominant source of political news and information for people in this country, including Internet users," he says.
The telephone survey of 1,510 adults was in cooperation with the University of Michigan School of Information in June and has a margin of sampling error of 3 percent. The complete report, The Internet and Democratic Debate, can be found on Pew's Web site: www.pewinternet.org.
-- Larry Jacobs, ABC News
By now, most Americans have been saturated with all the information they need regarding both President Bush and Sen. John Kerry. But do you know anything about the candidates vying for other elected positions, such as your local state legislature?
Project Vote Smart has on its Web site all the non-partisan information clueless voters may need to help make last minute decisions.
"Simply put, Project Vote Smart is a national library of factual information on 40,000 candidates and elected officials," says Brian Tagliaferro, national director of the non-profit organization. "If you specifically don't know who you're going to be voting for this election, in the offices that we cover, all you need to do is enter in your zip code, and we can tell you who those people are."
The site offers biographical information on each candidate as well as political background. It will also list each candidate's responses -- if any -- to the National Political Awareness Test, a voluntary statement of political issues and positions supported by the candidate.
To get a basic feel of what your politician candidates are all about, Web users should point their browsers to the organization's Web site: www.vote-smart.org.
-- Cheri Preston, ABC News
Cybershake is produced for ABC News Radio by Andrea J. Smith.