NEW MEDIA USE AS POLITICAL PARTICIPATION
Erik P. Bucy
University of Maryland
John E. Newhagen
University of Maryland
Erik P. Bucy
2806 Clear Shot Dr. #12
Silver Spring, MD 20906-6207
e-mail: [log in to unmask]
tel: (301) 598-4351
fax: (301) 405-0597
Manuscript accepted for inclusion in The Electronic Election: Perspectives on
1996 Campaign Communication
Lawrence Erlbaum (in press)
Submitted for presentation to the 1997 AEJMC Convention
Communication Theory & Methodology Division
March 31, 1997
Running head: New Media Use
NEW MEDIA USE AS POLITICAL PARTICIPATION
This paper reexamines the contention that mass media have been a
primary cause of the erosion of civic life and that increased media
reliance, especially on television, has led to a decrease in "social
capital" or citizen engagement in community affairs. Data are
presented from two election-year surveys of suburban Maryland
residents showing that political audiences regard several forms of
"new media," including political talk radio, computer discussion
groups, and call-in television, as well as traditional network news,
as civically useful and politically important. Call-in shows in
particular predict a significant amount of interest in politics.
Consistent with these findings, the study concludes that use of the
new media, especially political talk shows and the Internet, is an
emergent form of civic participation for an increasing number of
voters. Rather than destroying civic life, as the social erosion
thesis maintains, certain media channels appear to be engaging the
electorate and building a new base of mediated civic activity that
may rival conventional forms of participation.
New Media Use as Political Participation
An enduring paradox of contemporary American democracy is the apparent
stability of the political system in the face of widespread voter disaffection,
withdrawal from conventional forms of civic participation, and political
ignorance (Conway, 1991). Given a politically uninformed mass citizenry
(Neuman, 1986), anger, apathy, and cynicism in the electorate (Cappella &
Jamieson, 1996; Edsall, 1996; Morin & Balz, 1996; Pearlstein, 1996; Tolchin,
1996), low voter turnout (Conway, 1991), and limited opportunities for
meaningful participation in mass politics (Entman, 1989; Fallows, 1996), how
does democracy continue to effectively function--if it indeed requires the
active consent of the governed to operate? This chapter addresses the question
of social-political stability by investigating evidence for ways in which the
so-called "new media," including political call-in television, talk radio, and
the Internet, are emerging as new forms of civic participation that facilitate
and enable social connections rather than tear apart the societal fabric, as
critics of traditional mass media contend.
Political stability and legitimacy were called into question during the Vietnam
and Watergate eras when political scientists (e.g. Robinson, 1975) noticed
declining levels of institutional trust and attributed part of this crisis of
legitimacy to television. The notion that television acts as a corrosive
influence on civic affairs has recently experienced a resurgence owing primarily
to the work of Putnam (1993, 1995a, 1995b, 1995c), who asserts that the
introduction of television into American society in the 1950s was a major factor
in the subsequent decline of social trust, community networks, and participation
in civic organizations; together, these trends have resulted in a net loss of
the nation's store of "social capital." Like Robinson's (1975) videomalaise
argument--that television induces a sort of electoral ennui--Putnam's social
erosion thesis has received a good deal of critical attention (see Elliott,
1996; Lipset, 1995; Norris, 1996; Schudson, 1996; Skocpol, 1996; Valelly, 1996).
Putnam (1995c) suggests a number of potential causes for this decline of civic
engagement but ultimately pins his argument on the purported attitudinal and
time displacement effects of television. While defending newspaper reading,
which shows a positive association with social trust and group membership in the
General Social Survey data for 1974-1994, he issues a blanket indictment of
television. Without distinguishing between format or genre--entertainment and
news, audience participation shows or one-way broadcasts--Putnam (1995c) asserts
that television viewing alone "might directly account for as much as one-quarter
to one-half of the total drop in social capital" since the mid-1970s (p. 678).
New Media Use /
Putnam's assertions about television's negative impact on civic engagement
represent a traditional view of media effects that this study calls into
question on at least three grounds. First, social science, including both
political science and communication research, has long had difficulty isolating
direct media effects outside of controlled laboratory settings (Iyengar &
Kinder, 1987; Jamieson & Cappella, 1996). As Bartels (1993) observes, the
scholarly literature on this subject has been much better at "refuting,
qualifying, and circumscribing the thesis of media impact than at supporting it"
(p. 267). Second, a growing number of constructionist scholars (Dahlgren, 1995;
Just et al., 1996; Neuman, Just, & Crigler, 1992) regard media use as central to
the processes of social meaning production and public opinion formation,
constituent elements of civic involvement. Third, a steady stream of audience
research has conceptualized media consumers--the viewing electorate, one might
say--as active and interpretive rather than passive and easily manipulated (see
Yet while constructionists and audience researchers may be comfortable
describing voter experiences with media as an important and central aspect of
civic life, mainstream political communication approaches have traditionally
assigned little importance to the participatory potential of mass media. Media
use by the electorate, whether new or old, has only started to surface in
political communication research as a type of participation (e.g. Hofstetter et
al., 1994; O'Sullivan, 1995; Page & Tannenbaum, 1996). Since the classic voting
studies of the 1940s and 50s, the role of media in politics has largely been
viewed from a perspective that privileges the needs of the political system, in
particular the electoral component of that system, and the views of political
elites (Chaffee & Hochheimer, 1985, p. 269). Such staid notions virtually
ignore how members of the audience may actually benefit from the evolving
ecology of the new political communication environment, in which opportunities
for active participation are increasingly abundant.
Indeed, during the 1996 presidential campaign major and minor candidates and
parties alike posted and continuously updated home pages on the World Wide Web
(Corrado, 1996; Margolis, Resnick, & Tu, 1997). Listservs were established for
the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary and media organizations channeled
considerable resources to such online ventures as PoliticsNow and AllPolitics,
opening new spaces for voter/media/candidate communication. During the
primaries, the Dole for President campaign reported that its home page received
more than 3 million "hits," or visits, in its first six-months of operation,
with over 10,000 people joining the campaign e-mail list and 1,700 registering
as volunteers (Dongen, 1996). On election night, political Internet sites
received an estimated 50 million hits, breaking previous records for online
activity (Weise, 1996). As Corrado (1996) observes, the new media have the
capacity to "promote civic involvement simply by making it easier to
participate" (p. 13).
In the context of this chapter, "new media" refer to the hybrid forms of mass
communication that incorporate real-time feedback channels, including radio and
television talk shows that respond to listener calls, faxes and e-mail messages,
and online information services sponsored by major media organizations, such as
MSNBC, AllPolitics, or PoliticsNow. The central research question thus
concerns whether and to what extent use of the new media is becoming an integral
part of civic life--a bonafide form of civic participation for our information
age. As Muir (1992) noted during the 1992 presidential election, in a rapidly
changing information environment it is important to ask "whether there is an
actual decline in participation, as opposed to a decline in our traditional
conceptions of what citizen involve ment is in an evolving technological
Before specifying the research design of the present study, a further look at
traditional conceptions of political participation may be in order. Verba and
Nie (1987) identify four major categories of participation variables: voting,
campaign participation, community activities, and leader or legislator contact.
In Putnam's study, television exposure is conceptualized as an independent
variable acting on the dependent variable, social capital (which is closely
related to political participation), and does not constitute active involvement
per se. Instead, television is seen as the "800-pound gorilla of leisure time"
(Robinson & Godbey, 1995), a form of passive spectatorship so consuming that it
displaces "nearly every social activity outside the home, especially social
gatherings and informal conversations" (Putnam, 1995c, p. 679).
Conway (1991) defines political participation as "those activities of citizens
that attempt to influence the structure of government, the selection of
government authorities, or the policies of government" (pp. 3-4). She
distinguishes between active participation, which is instrumental or
goal-oriented (voting, seeking office, working for a candidate, writing public
officials), and passive kinds of involvement, such as attending ceremonies or
merely paying attention to government and politics. Thus, Conway (1991) argues,
"following political campaigns through the mass media could be considered a
passive form of political participation" (p. 4). The advent of interactive
political communication, or "political interactivity" (Hacker, 1996a, 1996b),
has altered the participatory landscape, however. With the exception of voting,
each of Conway's conditions for active involvement can now be met through the
Measuring civic involvement depends to a large extent on the way criterion
variables are operationalized and defined. As noted, political science has
defined participation primarily as active behaviors and media use as idle
spectatorship. Consistent with this view, Kerbel (1995) writes: "Television
viewing is a passive diversion, something we can do while cradling a beer.
Involvement in politics is an active enterprise, something we do with our
neighbors. The two do not mix very well" (p. 131). For political communication
traditionalists, historical institutional requirements, stemming from the
tendency to analyze politics in terms of the needs of the political system,
continue to take precedence over the changing political landscape, in which mass
media play an increasingly central role (Arterton, 1984; Rose, 1994). In a new
media environment, defining democratic legitimacy almost strictly in terms of
conventional categories of participation, chief of which is voting, may be
clinging to outdated notions of popular consent.
Indeed, traditional participation measures may be inadequate indicators for
explaining the changing relationship of the citizen to the state. Rather than
"relegating media-related activity to the status of a minor mode of political
participation," as much political communication research has done for decades
through the American National Election Studies (Chaffee & Hochheimer, 1985, p.
284), media involvement--at least new media involvement--might instead be
profitably treated as a major mode of civic participation; that is, as an
integral component of popular consent.
From this perspective, the question of democratic legitimacy and political
stability in the face of low voter turnout, decreased traditional participation,
and a politically uninformed mass electorate may be explained by an important
construct that isn't being measured: civic engagement through media. For the
mass electorate, regular involvement with media might well be taking the place
of direct, sporadic involvement in politics. Moreover, as Schudson (1996)
points out, the decline of civic participation in its conventional forms "does
not demonstrate the decline of civic mindedness" (p. 18, italics added). Civic
involvement may be short-lived or situational and not show up in indices of
group membership. Therefore, to ask what traditional indicators of group or
political participation say about the state of democracy or civic society may be
posing the wrong question. Concerned students of media and politics might
instead ask how citizens connect with and legitimate the political system in new
ways, especially through the rapidly changing channels of mass communication.
Data and Methods
This paper uses data from two election surveys from 1996. The first was a mail
survey of Prince George's County, Maryland residents conducted in late February
during the early primary season under the auspices of the Center for Research in
Public Communication at the University of Maryland. Altogether, 193
completed questionnaires were returned for a response rate of about 20
percent. A second, post-election telephone survey was conducted in the same
geographic area in early November as part of the national Election Team Project
coordinated by the Political Communication Center at the University of Oklahoma.
In this second wave, 203 Prince George's County residents were contacted with a
response rate of approximately 60 percent.
At least since the publication of The American Voter, political interest has
been used as an indicator for psychological involvement in politics and civic
life (Campbell, Converse, Miller, & Stokes, 1960, p. 102). The political
interest variable is thus employed as the main criterion in the primary survey
to investigate whether media uses encourages or discourages civic engagement.
Although political interest is not a direct measure of civic engagement, it can
serve as a rough proxy for level of general civic involvement and awareness. In
the post-election survey, the political interest question was not asked, so
whether respondents reported voting is employed as a measure of civic
The first hypothesis stands Putnam's social erosion thesis on its head. Given
the argument that the new media, particularly call-in shows and Internet
discussion groups, "may be less a substitute for civic engagement than a new and
perhaps insidious form of it" (Schudson, 1996, p. 20), it can be predicted that:
H1 There will be a positive association between use of the new media and
political interest during the primary season, and report of voting in the
After taking associational relationships into account, a second hypothesis
H2 New media use will emerge as a significant predictor of political interest,
even after controlling for other demographic, political, and media use
The primary survey also included a set of questions asking respondents to rate
the usefulness of various "ways of participating in our political system."
These items are divided among such traditional activities as attending meetings
or rallies, contacting elected representatives, displaying posters or lawn
signs, and voting on the one hand, and such media behaviors as watching TV news
or reading the newspaper, discussing politics by computer, and listening to talk
radio or call-in television on the other. Similarly, the post-election survey
asked respondents to rate the political importance of participating in the same
Putnam (1995c) argues that one of the contributing factors to the erosion of
social capital is generational: older people belong to more organizations, vote
more often, are more trusting, and read newspapers more frequently than younger
people. Putnam identifies this group as the "long civic generation" born
roughly between 1910 and 1940. Much journalism research and professional
commentary confirms the age bias in newspaper readership (see Stepp, 1996).
Clearly, when younger people encounter mass media, they tend toward television
and, to the extent that it has become a mass medium, the World Wide Web. Given
Putnam's finding of a traditionalist civic generation and the argument that
media involvement is increasingly regarded by the audience as important as other
forms of more traditional civic participation, it can be predicted that:
H3 Respondents in younger age groups will rate the usefulness and importance
of televised modes of participation more highly than respondents in older age
In the primary survey, the political interest question simply asked: How
interested are you in politics? The question featured a 7-point response scale,
where 1=not very interested and 7=very interested. Four respondents did not
answer the question and were removed from the analysis, leaving a sample N of
189. Collapsing the results into three categories showed that about half the
cases were clustered at the higher, more interested, end of the scale (n=94).
About a third of the respondents (n=59) reported a middle-range interest in
politics, while the number of those not very interested in politics at the lower
end of the scale was just under 20 percent (n=36). The sample as a whole
appeared to be slightly more interested in politics than not (M=4.7).
To test whether there was any relationship between political interest and media
use, bivariate Tau-b correlations were run for political interest and a series
of political, media, and computer use variables. Computer use variables were
included to represent the emergent form of online media. Table 1 shows that
three of the four new media variables--visiting political Internet sites (b=.25,
p<.001), television and radio call-in shows (b=.23, p<.001), and Internet access
(b=.18, p<.01)--are significantly related to political interest, trailing only
strength of party identification (b=.30, p<.001). National news viewing also
shows a positive association (b=.13, p<.05) and newspaper reading approaches
significance (b=.11, p<.10). These findings support the first part of
Hypothesis 1, which said that there will be a positive association between use
of the new media and political interest during the primary season.
Table 1 About Here
In the post-election survey, t-tests were run to determine whether significant
differences existed between voting and non-voting in relation to media and
computer use. Overall, 74 percent of respondents said they voted (perhaps
reflecting a social desirability effect in the sample), with slightly more women
(76 percent) answering affirmatively than men (72 percent) but not at
significant levels. On average, respondents who said they voted also reported
heavier media use across all channels, including newspapers, radio, television,
and the Internet. Table 2 shows significant differences for both traditional
and new political media use, including television talk shows (t=2.11, p<.05) and
Internet use (t=2.63, p<.01).
Table 2 About Here
Next, the continuous media use variables from the post-election survey were
collapsed into categorical data and used in cross-tabs with the vote report
variable. Two emerging sources of political news, television talk shows
(X2=5.81, p<.05) and the Internet (X2=9.13, p<.01), show a positive association
with vote report. These results support the second part of Hypothesis 1, that
there will be a positive association between voting and use of the new media in
the general election.
Multivariate hierarchical regression was used to further assess the
relationship between new media use and political interest in the primary survey.
Table 3 shows the results. As one would expect in a test of political interest,
party identification (beta=.31, p<.001) and strength of party identification
(beta=.41, p<.001) emerge as significant predictors after controlling for such
demographic factors as income, education, race, and gender. However, in the
third step--the test of media influence on political interest--the impact of
call-in shows persists, even after accounting for the effect of demographic and
political influences (beta=.36, p<.001). For every one-unit increase in call-in
media use, there is a .36 increase in political interest. This finding supports
Hypothesis 2, that use of the new media will emerge as a significant predictor
of political interest, even after controlling for demographic and political
Table 3 About Here
Additionally, the results for the final step of the regression show that, even
after accounting for media use variables, access to the Internet emerges as a
moderate predictor of political interest (beta=.25, p<.01). Overall, the
regression model accounts for 43 percent of the explained variance (adjusted R2)
in political interest. Interestingly, the regression results do not support the
argument that normal television viewing has a negative effect on civic
engagement, at least as measured by the dependent variable, interest in
politics. Television news viewing, whether local, national, or CNN or C-SPAN,
is positively related to political interest but not significant. Newspaper
reading, on the other hand, was negatively related but not significant. Both of
these findings run counter to the social erosion thesis.
To test Hypothesis 3, analysis of variance was employed to compare the
perceived usefulness of traditional and mediated forms of civic participation by
age group in the primary survey, and the political importance of the same
activities in the post-election survey.
In the primary survey, the participation items were measured on a scale from
0-100 that asked primary season respondents to rate the usefulness of the
following activities: attending political meetings or rallies; watching TV news
or reading the newspaper; writing or phoning elected representatives; discussing
politics by computer; listening to talk radio or call-in television; displaying
stickers, posters, buttons, or lawn signs; and, voting. In the post-election
survey, respondents were asked to rate the political importance of the same
items on a 5-point scale, where 1=unimportant and 5=important. In both data
sets, the age variable was collapsed and grouped into five categories: 18-35,
36-45, 46-55, 56-65, and 66 and over. The latter two categories correspond to
Putnam's "civic generation" born between 1910 to 1940.
In the primary data, the analysis revealed significant differences between
different age groups for the usefulness of attending political meetings or
rallies (F=3.14, p<.05) and discussing politics by computer (F=6.50, p<.0001).
Of the remaining dependent variables (call-in shows, writing leaders, displaying
yard signs and bumper stickers, voting, and television viewing and newspaper
reading), none showed significant differences between age groups, perhaps
reflecting a general consensus as to their relative utility. Interestingly,
usefulness of voting emerged as the least significant item (F=.15, p<.97),
presumably due to the high esteem in which voting is held across age groups
Younger respondents in the age groups 18-35 and 36-45 rated political meetings
or rallies--a traditional form of civic participation--the highest on the 0-100
usefulness scale (M=53.1 and M=53.5, respectively), followed next by respondents
aged 46- 55 (M=47.6). For older respondents, Putnam's so-called "civic
generation," the mean scores drop further (M=36.8 for 56-65 year olds, and
M=29.3 for 66 and above), perhaps reflecting the current sensibilities of this
retirement-age subgroup. They have attended their share of political meetings
and rallies over the years.
The mean scores for usefulness of discussing politics by computer follow the
same general pattern as the previous question; however, the scores are slightly
lower and there is a steeper, 14-point increase from the 36-45 age group
(M=30.1) to the youngest age category of 18-35 year olds (M=44). As one would
expect to find with a question about computer use, older respondents find
computer discussion about politics less useful than younger respondents, who are
perhaps more "wired" and technologically oriented.
In the post-election survey, the analysis revealed significant differences
between different age groups for the political importance assigned to two
categories of media use: traditional television and newspapers (F=2.42, p<.05),
which received the highest overall mean rating (M=4.01), and new media,
specifically talk radio and call-in shows (F=3.03, p<.05). None of the
remaining dependent variables showed significant differences. The political
importance of displaying stickers, posters, buttons, and lawn signs emerged as
the least significant item in the post-election data set (F=.05, p<.99).
Overall, the mean differences between age groups in the post-election sample
were less decisive than in the primary survey, perhaps because a majority of the
respondents were younger in the post-election sample (M=36) than in the primary
In the primary survey, younger people tended to rate the usefulness of
attending political meetings and rallies and discussing politics by computer
higher than older respondents. In the post-election data, older and younger age
groups assigned roughly equal importance to traditional media (television and
newspapers) while respondents aged 56-65 rated the political importance of talk
radio and call-in shows the highest of any age category (M=3.58). Though not
uniform, these findings still partially support Hypothesis 3, that younger
people will rate the usefulness and political importance of mediated modes of
participation higher than respondents in older age groups.
The context for this paper is claim that media, television in particular, has
somehow sapped the nation's store of participatory energy. Putnam is not alone
in arguing that TV has "tattered [the] nation's social fabric," as a Washington
Post headline declared after his 1995 address to the American Political Science
Association (Edsall, 1995). The argument that media exposure has harmful
effects on audiences over time and contributes to the erosion of public
confidence in institutions can be found in communication studies as well.
Postman's (1985) critique of public discourse, Amusing Ourselves to Death, about
the negative civic implications of an "entertainment-oriented" media, and Hart's
(1994) Seducing America, analyzing how television "charms the modern voter," are
just two examples of this genre.
Given the rapidly changing nature of the communication environment and the ways
in which political media are actually used and regarded by audiences, the 1996
election presents an opportune moment to reconceptualize the problem of
participation. The new media, especially, with their emphasis on audience
involvement and public deliberation of pressing issues, not only play an
information role crucial to democratic governance, they arguably serve as a
bonafide form of civic participation for a growing segment of the electorate.
(Concern about the quality of public deliberation via the new media is beyond
the scope of this paper, although some (e.g. Franke, 1996; Hill & Hughes, 1997;
Sakkas, 1993) have begun to assess this dimension as well.) In this view, the
new media can be regarded as important participatory venues. Rather than
lamenting the decline of conventional civic activities, it is perhaps better, as
Schudson (1996) argues, "to conceive the changes we find as a new environment of
civic and political activity with altered institutional openings for engagement"
This analysis used two different indicators of civic involvement from two
different surveys to find tentative support for the argument that traditional
television and new media use encourages civic engagement rather than political
alienation. Any conclusions must remain tentative, however, due to the low
response rate to the mail survey, the limitations of cross-sectional surveys in
general, and the upwardly biased response to the political interest and voting
items in the two samples. These surveys may have appealed to those most
interested in politics already, suggesting a possible causal arrow problem:
political interest may determine media use rather than media use determining
Even if traditional television and new media use are just positively associated
with interest in politics, and not regarded as predictor variables, however, the
social erosion thesis is not supported. Using correlations, Putnam found a
strong negative association between television viewing and civic involvement in
the GSS data. In this study, national television news viewing and listening to
call-in shows are positively correlated with political interest at significant
levels, indicating that both the traditional media and the new media are factors
contributing to a sense of civic engagement. This runs counter to the notion of
television as the mass agent of alienation that some critics would make it out
to be. Indeed, a rich literature in political socialization has shown that
media use contributes substantially to social integration and political
education (see Atkin, 1981; Chaffee, Ward, & Tipton, 1970).
The findings from this study suggest that political audiences regard some
mediated modes of civic participation, such as call-in shows and use of the
Internet, as useful and valuable to civic life. Call-in shows in particular
predict a significant amount of interest in politics, which this analysis has
used as a proxy for civic involvement. Consistent with these findings, it seems
increasingly plausible to argue that new media use, rather than destroying the
nation's store of social capital as Putnam contends television has, might in
fact be building a new base of civic activity (at least in the context of the
1996 presidential campaign).
Clearly, more research--and meaningful measures--are needed to isolate the
unique contributions of the new media to civic life and move this contentious
 1This study was funded in part by an L John Martin Research Associates
award and Martin Fund Research Grant from the College of Journalism at the
University of Maryland, College Park.
 2Other causes Putnam mentions include pressures of time and money; mobility
and suburbanization; the rise of two-career households; the breakdown of the
traditional family unit; changes in the structure of the American economy;
lingering effects from the movements of the 1960s and 70s; and, the growth of
the welfare state (Putnam, 1995c, p 667).
 3MSNBC is a 24-hour cable news network and World Wide Web site sponsored by
Microsoft and NBC AllPolitics is a joint venture between CNN and Time magazine.
PoliticsNow is an online political news and information service jointly
sponsored by the National Journal, ABC News, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times,
and Newsweek magazine. Each service came into existence in 1996.
 4The 1990 US. Census STF1-A database on CD-ROM was employed to stratify the
original survey sample. The database was broken into block groups, areas
roughly equivalent to an eight-square-block neighborhood containing about 2,000
residents. Block groups were divided into two categories: those with more
Whites than Blacks, and those with more Blacks than Whites. Each block group
was then stratified according to income, yielding a total of four race-class
categories: lower income White and Black, and higher income White and Black.
The cutoff point used for lower income was median annual household income of
Street names and address ranges in each block group were then determined using
the U.S. Census "Tiger" mapping database. An equal number of street addresses
were then drawn randomly from each race-class category, using a street
address-based ("criss-cross") telephone directory. A total of 1,200 surveys
were mailed to county residents; of these, about 100 were returned labeled wrong
address. More men (n=112, 58 percent) responded than women (n=77, 40 percent),
and the sample consists of 132 White (68 percent), 45 Black (23 percent), and 16
unidentified respondents (8 percent). Median household income ranges from
$50,000 to $75,000. Much of the sampling frame design for the mail survey
borrows from Newhagen's 1992 study of Prince George's County voters (see
 5Although this number is low, it falls within the range of "typical" mail
survey completion rates of 10 to 40 percent (see Wimmer & Dominick, 1997, p
152). Due to budget limitations, we were unable to send either a pre-mailer
notice, post-mailer reminder, or follow-up survey to boost the response rate.
 6For the post-election survey, Prince George's County residents were
contacted from the phone book using a single directory interval sampling method
(see Frey, 1989, pp 87-88). Students in a communication research methods class
at the University of Maryland contacted an average of six residents each during
a one-week period from November 7-14, 1996. To ensure randomness and account
for unlisted phone numbers in a given exchange, the last two digits of numbers
identified for calling were transposed. The post-election sample consists of
more women (n=110, 54 percent) than men (n=92, 45 percent), but the proportion
of White (n=138, 68 percent), Black (n=45, 22 percent), and other racial groups
(n=16, 8 percent) is remarkably similar to the primary survey sample. Median
household income ranges from $30,000 to $50,000, slightly less than the primary
 7Tau-b correlations were used due to the ordinal nature of some of the
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Correlation Coefficients for Interest in Politics with
Political, Media, and Computer Use Variables
Party ID -.01
Strength of Party ID .30***
Local TV News .07
National TV News .13*
Call-In Shows .23***
Internet Access .18**
Political Sites .25***
Send E-Mail .09
***p<.001 **p<.01 *p<.05 _p<.10
Correlation coefficients are Tau-b.
Mean Scores and t-Values for Voter and Non-Voter
Political Media and Computer Use
Media Variable Voters Non-Voters t-Value
Radio 2.93 2.15 1.91_
Newspaper 4.39 3.00 3.70***
Local TV News 4.45 3.84 1.95*
Network News 2.87 1.94 2.72**
TV Talk Shows 1.54 .88 2.11*
CNN/C-SPAN/MS-NBC 1.70 1.63 .21
Political Internet 1.98 1.51 2.63**
Send E-Mail 2.87 2.53 1.36
***p<.001 **p<.01 *p<.05 _p<.10
Hierarchical Regression of Demographic, Political, Media & Computer Use
Variables Against Interest in Politics
Variable B Beta
Income -.16 -.11
Education .38** .25**
Race .79 .21**
Gender .25 .07
Ideology -.17 -.10
Party ID .87*** .31***
Strength of Party ID .35*** .41***
Local TV News .04 .02
Newspaper -.01 -.01
National TV News .16 .13
Call-In Shows .45*** .36***
CNN/C-SPAN .14 .10
Internet Access .38** .25**
Political Sites .31_ .15_
Send E-Mail -.24_ -.18_
Understand Computers .05 .04
Total R2=.50 Adjusted R2=.43
***p<.001 **p<.01 *p<.05 _p<.10
Beta=standardized regression coefficient