I recently got a smart phone. I can now check my email and websites without my laptop, opening up a whole new level of connectivity to me. My new favorite app is called “Congress,” and tells me the latest bills introduced and passed, and can map my location and tell me who my elected officials are and then connect me to them.
Have new levels of connectedness to the internet facilitated greater political participation? Yes, especially among citizens connected to social media.
If yes, then does unequal internet access result in unequal political participation? Experts have long argued that members of higher social classes in the U.S. are more likely to participate in politics – that participation in American politics requires knowledge, skills, time, and money. There is an ever-changing balance between the “old” ways of participating in American politics and the “new” ways. Community meetings, town hall forums, and campaign door-knocking are getting a run for their money from social media websites, blogs written by experts and non-experts, and online opportunities to participate in campaigns and policy-making.
An article in the latest “Perspectives on Politics” asks this question.* The authors found that among internet users, there remains a stratification of participation in politics based on socio-economic status, but that the “web has ameliorated the well-known participatory deficit” among young people.
While the masses probably aren’t using their smart phones to access “Congress,” they are using them to access Facebook, Twitter, and social media sites. Do smart phone users have a participatory advantage? Are smart phones another tool for those who can afford them to access politics in America? Stay tuned, as politics increasingly becomes conducted on the internet.
*Schlozman, Kay Lehman; Verba, Sidney; and Brady, Henry. 2010. “Weapon of the Strong? Participatory Inequality and the Internet.” Perspectives on Politics, vol. 8 no. 2. June.