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Citizen Attitudes and Factors Enabling Political Participation between Internet Users and Non-users. The Study of Internet Use in Latvia

Visvaldis Valtenbergs
Vidzeme University of Applied Sciences
Visvaldis Valtenbergs
Vidzeme University of Applied Sciences
Open Panel

Abstract

Importance of the Internet as channel of information and resource for political mobilization and engagement has grown over the years. Although studies about Internet’s impact on political participation have generated some empirical evidence, our understanding about characteristics of political internet users remain limited. This study focuses on the attitudes of internet users and non-users as well as several cognitive factors that enable participation, such as interest and knowledge about politics and consumption of political information. The study also tests on-line mobilization hypothesis for different age, education and income groups by examining interlinking patterns between citizen on-line and off-line participation patterns. The role of digital technologies in facilitating different forms of politics and citizen engagement is less researched in post-communist societies in which there is lower trust to political institutions and lower levels of civic and political engagement. Despite harsh austerity measures in response to economic downturn, these countries did not experience huge waves of public protest. In this context it would be interesting to see if internet enabled forms of participation are in some way compensating low civic and political participation levels in these societies. This study examines political characteristics of Internet users in Latvia. The results of the study are based on two telephone surveys conducted after Latvian Parliamentary Elections of 2010 and 2006. Preliminary findings of the study show support for mobilization hypothesis among certain segments of population and point to the relevance of contextual factors in explaining relationship between the internet use and participation.