Date: 02 Feb 2013

Traditional Cleavages or a New World: Does Online Social Networking Bridge the Political Participation Divide?

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Abstract

There is a growing literature that examines the effects of the Internet on political participation. We seek to contribute to this literature by exploring how online social networking may stimulate online political participation. Using survey data from the Pew Internet & American Life Project, we confirm a strong positive relationship and show that this effect is driven by the level of political exchange within networks. Further, we explore the potential for the Internet to dissipate traditional cleavages in participation that tend to mirror the inequalities in the availability and use of technology. The findings suggest that while many of the “have-nots” do engage in online networking at higher rates than their counterparts, they are less likely to be exposed to political exchanges within their networks. As a result, the effect of online networking on participation is more pronounced for the “haves.” We discuss the implications of these findings.