The political competence of Internet participants: Evidence from Finland

Åsa Bengtsson, Henrik Serup Christensen

    Tutkimustuotos: Artikkeli kirjassa/raportissa/konferenssijulkaisussaLukuTieteellinenvertaisarvioitu


    The state of democracy has been a concern in the established democracies in recent decades, as levels of electoral turnout and party membership have been dwindling and citizens growing increasingly disenchanted with the dated political systems (Norris 1999; Pharr and Putnam 2000; Putnam 2000). The role of the Internet in all of this has become a debated topic (Norris 2001; Jennings and Zeitner 2003; Xenos and Bennett 2007a; Mossberger et al. 2008; Bennett et al. 2008). Initially, optimists claimed the Internet would help revitalize the disaffected citizenries (Ayres 1999; Scheufele and Nisbet 2002; Bennett et al. 2008). However, sceptics have started to doubt the capabilities of the Internet to foster civic mobilization, fearing a digital divide (Norris 2001) or the depoliticizing effects of the Internet (Jennings and Zeitner 2003, p. 312). The implications of the Internet for the state of democracy are still a matter of debate. A central issue in the debate about the potential effects of political activity on the Internet concerns what is here termed political competence, although slightly different labels are used in the literature for similar concepts (Delli Carpini and Keeter 1996; Milner 2002; Dalrymple and Scheufele 2007; Grönlund 2007). Behind the different terminologies is the common idea that to fulfil the role of a democratic citizen, it is necessary to be not only willing but also able to participate in political affairs. Whereas the willingness to participate concerns the extent of citizen engagement in public affairs as a purely quantitative measure, the ability to do so refers to the competence of citizens to further their interests in a purposeful manner (Milner 2002, p. 1). It thus calls attention to the qualitative aspect of participation. It is not enough that citizens are active; they should also be able to act effectively. Accordingly, if the Internet is to provide a genuine cure for democratic ills, Internet activists also need to possess the necessary civic skills to further their interests successfully. If the Internet mobilizes civicminded and capable citizens, it becomes untenable to dismiss these activities as inconsequential or even harmful for democracy. This suggests that the relationship between the Internet, political competence and political participation can manifest itself in different ways. It may be that the Internet does not mobilize any new activists, and at best only provides new tools for those already active. In this sense, the Internet may make participation easier for the already active, but it does little to help activate previously passive segments. A different portrait is that the Internet does indeed mobilize new segments. However, the mobilized segments constitute ‘virtually active’ citizens with little clue about how to further their interests effectively, and the Internet therefore becomes a political playground for those incapable of participating in traditional political arenas. Finally, a more positive scenario expects the Internet to mobilize previously passive segments who, vitalized by the technological possibilities, bloom into both active and capable citizens who just happen to prefer other ways to voice their political preferences. This chapter examines which scenario most adequately describes the situation in a Finnish context. Research on this has so far been scant in a European context, mainly due to lack of suitable data. The Finnish Election Study 2007 provides a rare opportunity to examine the relationships, as it not only contains the ‘standard indicators’ on participation, socio-economic characteristics and political involvement, but also includes indicators on political participation on the Internet and factual political knowledge.

    OtsikkoSocial Media and Democracy
    AlaotsikkoInnovations in Participatory Politics
    KustantajaTaylor and Francis
    ISBN (elektroninen)9781136459719
    ISBN (painettu)9780415683708
    DOI - pysyväislinkit
    TilaJulkaistu - 1 tammik. 2012
    OKM-julkaisutyyppiA3 Kirjan osa tai toinen tutkimuskirja


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