Roughly 75 million Americans used the Internet to connect to politics in 2004. They sought election news, exchanged political email, made campaign contributions and blogged, according to a post-election study conducted by The Pew Internet & American Life Project. This figure equals roughly 37 percent of the adult population, and 61 percent of American Internet users.
The number of online political news consumers, meanwhile, increased dramatically compared to 2000, growing from 18 percent of the U.S. population in 2000 to 29 percent in 2004.
"The last election was a breakout for the Internet," said Lee Rainie, director of The Pew Internet & American Life Project. "Every aspect of online politics grew quantitatively and many were wholly new, from the flood of online campaign contributions to the rise of bloggers, from Meetups to streaming JibJab."
The study, which surveyed 2,200 American adults between November 4 and November 22, found 52 percent of Internet users, or approximately 63 million people, went online to get news or information about the 2004 elections. Pew also found the number of people who turned to the Internet as their primary source of presidential election news increased from 11 percent in 2000 to 18 percent in 2004.
"The biggest thing is that the Internet became a much more important force in the election last year, compared to earlier elections in 2000 and 1996," Rainie said.
About 35 percent of Internet users (43 million people) discussed politics via email. One of the most popular email topics was jokes about candidates. Just over 10 percent of Web users (13 million people) used the Internet to donate money to campaigns, volunteer, or learn about political events to attend.
Broadband connectivity appears to have impacted consumption of election news and information. For people with home broadband connections, the Internet competes with newspapers as a major source of election information. Approximately 38 percent of respondents with broadband at home cited the Internet as a major source of political news, while 36 percent cited newspapers.
"One of the big stories is the rapid adoption of broadband at home," Rainie said. "Once users adopt broadband, they become very different in their use of the Internet."
Political news consumed online played a decisive role in the voting choices of many respondents. Approximately 52 percent political news consumers said the Internet was important in giving them information that helped them decide how to vote. About 27 percent said information found online prompted them to decide for or against a particular candidate. Roughly one out four (23 percent) said their use of the Internet for political news encouraged them to vote.
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March 19, 2014