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28 February, 2005

Online politics a 'turn-off', says study

Despite an increasing public use of the internet few are using it for political engagement, according to the Economic & Social Research Council.

The study, based on a NOP survey of almost 2,000 people in December 2004, found that numbers contacting Britain's legislative bodies over the Internet are small. Those who do use this route tend to be existing political activists, already well-known in parliamentary circles.

"Our survey provides a sobering antidote to the hype that often surrounds the role of the Internet in the political world, but we shouldn't write off new technologies as being of no consequence," said project leader Dr Stephen Ward of the Oxford Internet Institute.

"The findings show there is potential to attract and deepen engagement, particularly among younger people."

However, he warned that the technology alone will not achieve this: "Simply adding new electronic means of communication to old structures, or providing information online, will not automatically spark interest," he said.

Politicians and institutions, said Dr Ward, must "actively attract people outside the usual suspects by demonstrating that their contribution is valued and listened to".

"Without that, the danger remains that e-politics will simply exacerbate the current situation by amplifying those voices already prominent in the parliamentary system."

The research project Parliamentary representation in the Internet age (www.ipop.org.uk) is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) as part of its e-society programme.

The full report can be downloaded from www.ipop.org.uk

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