Is a Digital Nation a Voting Nation? Using Survey Data to Examine the Relationship Between Internet Use and Voting in the United States

40 Pages Posted: 5 Jan 2021

See all articles by Amy Robinson

Amy Robinson

Harvard Law School; Harvard Kennedy School

Hannah Schaller

University of Virginia School of Law

Rafi M. Goldberg

Government of the United States of America - National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA)

Edward Carlson

Independent

Date Written: January 4, 2021

Abstract

Since the Internet first became a mainstream form of communication, researchers have sought to understand its impact on civic engagement. Given the unprecedented ability of Internet users to access volumes of information and news sources, connect with like-minded people around the world, and communicate instantaneously, it is important to understand how the Internet changes our community relationships and civic engagement. While early research painted a largely positive picture of the Internet’s impact, more recent work has pointed to the dangers posed by online echo chambers, misinformation, and the substitution of virtual interactions for real-life community activities. Against this backdrop, we explore the relationship between Internet use and voting in the 2016 and 2018 U.S. elections, paying particular attention to different kinds of devices, technologies, and online activities.

In testing a statistical model of voting that includes indicators of Internet use and other relevant characteristics, we merge overlapping samples from four supplements to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey. First, the November 2017 edition of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA) Internet Use Survey captures extensive information about Internet adoption and various devices used by Americans. The November 2016 and November 2018 Voting and Registration Supplements capture information regarding voter registration, turnout, and reported reasons for not voting. Finally, the September 2017 Volunteering and Civic Life Supplement captures other important markers of civic engagement, such as the various ways in which people volunteer and participate in activities in their communities. Taking advantage of the Current Population Survey’s sample design, which leads to households being included in eight monthly data collections over the course of sixteen months, we examine voting and Internet use while also controlling for variables such as ethnicity, age, gender, education, and income.

Our preliminary findings suggest that Internet use was positively related to voter turnout in both the 2016 presidential election and 2018 midterm election. In both 2016 and 2018, an Internet user was more likely to vote than a non-user after controlling for other factors believed to be related to voter turnout. Other results are equally illuminating; for example, PC or tablet computer use was associated with a higher likelihood of voting, while smartphone use had no statistically significant impact. It is these and other results that our group incorporates into the paper and weaves a story about how the Internet impacts American civic participation.

Keywords: Broadband, Internet, Current Population Survey, CPS, Voting, Election, Civic Engagement

Suggested Citation

Robinson, Amy and Schaller, Hannah and Goldberg, Rafi M. and Carlson, Edward, Is a Digital Nation a Voting Nation? Using Survey Data to Examine the Relationship Between Internet Use and Voting in the United States (January 4, 2021). TPRC48: The 48th Research Conference on Communication, Information and Internet Policy, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3760187 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3760187

Amy Robinson

Harvard Law School ( email )

1563 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Harvard Kennedy School ( email )

111 Western Avenue 10 soldiers Field park apartmen
Boston, MA 02163
United States

Hannah Schaller

University of Virginia School of Law ( email )

(434) 924-7354 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://https://www.law.virginia.edu/

Rafi M. Goldberg

Government of the United States of America - National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) ( email )

1401 Constitution Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20230
United States

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