Pew: Digital Civic Engagement report, "who's missing" analysis

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Steven Clift

May 1, 2013, 11:09:10 AM5/1/13
to,,,,,, mySociety:Public, Virtual WSIS CS Plenary Group Space just put out one of the most important survey reports
in the e-democracy/open government field in about five years.

I wanted to share this with our "open" allies around the world and ask
for any references to similar studies or better yet projects that have
successfully moved the needle in your country to engage lots of new
and diverse voices online (versus further raising the voices of mostly
higher income, college graduates). Send them to:

Here is my in-depth "inclusion" analysis and commentary:

Direct to the report:

Civic Engagement in the Digital Age

Let's talk about it on Twitter with #pewcivic hashtag. What is your
big takeaway?

Here is the beginning of my summary:

The new must-read Civic Engagement in the Digital Age study by the Pew
Internet and American Life Project makes it clear to me:

Accepting “politics as usual” means those who already show up in
political life continue to dominate online. Closing the digital civic
engagement divide is a challenge for our generation to solve.

Every few years, like their Neighbors Online report, the Pew Internet
and American Life project releases game changing numbers that help us
re-calibrate our priorities and investments to build civic and
democratic good.

Quick Numbers

After many hours of pouring through the report, these are the numbers
that stood out to me.

Good: 49% of all adults participated in online “civic communication”
and/or are a “political social networking site” user in 2012

10% only did online “civic communication” (34% total)

16% only were political sns users (39% total)

23% did both

More on the political sns users below – Report author Aaron Smith sent
us the breakdown above and other tidbits which are not detailed in the
main report.

Bad: Huge online civic communication gap based on income - Households
over 75K at 47%+, 20K to under 30K only 24% – Almost half the
participation rate participating civically online, report shows huge
education gaps as well

Really Bad: Whites 38% compared to Blacks at 23% and Latinos at 17% –
Action oriented online civic communication helps citizens have a
voice, power, and influence in democracy

Bad Foundation: For offline “civic communication” Whites 43%, Blacks
31%, Latinos 26% - Survey does find better Black – White racial equity
with direct involvement in offline civic groups/activities. It is
essential to point out that many differences in race are more related
to income and education levels than anything else – but the impact is
that same, important voices are not being heard.

Clift Notes: Everything about the Internet, from raising voices to
organizing to information access to convenience, makes it a great
equalizer for democratic participation. Today with far greater
minority access to the Internet, why is the civic communication gap
larger online than offline?

The online gap based on race is 3% larger for Blacks and 4% for Latinos.

What is it about the design, technical assumptions, perceived
relevancy, marketing, and inclusive outreach with online civic
engagement that is not working make democracy stronger and more
equitable? Why are the clear democratic benefits of the digital age
not leading to a more representative and participatory democracy for
all? If we seek to engage not just more people from a small pool of
the most educated and wealthier citizens, but instead want this
digital opportunity to provide more democratic opportunity for all, we
are going in the wrong direction.

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