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24 September, 2003

Internet begins to engage young people in political activity

'The internet is starting to open up politics to young people in Britain, and could help to engage more of them with the political process', according to research published today by the Economic and Social Research Council.

In the first major study into how UK political organisations use the Internet to improve political participation, researchers looked at how British political parties, pressure groups including trade unions, new social movements and protest networks used the new technology to reach new supporters. The survey found that as many as 30 per cent of young people aged 1524 with internet access had visited a political or campaigning website, signed an e-petition or joined a political chatroom. This compared with only 11 per cent of 45-54 year olds. 'While e-politics still has some way to go, we found significant evidence that the internet helped to engage more young people in active politics and campaigning,' said Dr Stephen Ward, the report's co-author. 'That has important lessons for parties and pressure groups which worry that today's young people are an apathetic generation. They need to reach them in new ways. 'Indeed when we probed further, we found that a significant proportion of those who had visited political or campaigning sites said they would not have sought information on that group or issue had they had to rely on the telephone or the post. A third of those who had accessed political party sites said they would not have done so if traditional methods had been the only way of reaching them. 'Overall, there has been a marginal expansion in political participation and activism thanks to the Internet,' concludes Dr Ward. 'And while many of those involved in online politics are already active politically, the web is starting to attract those who might not bother with offline politics.' Share

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