Citizens Embracing E-Government

Finding an alternative to the telephone, 68 million Americans have accessed government services and information via the Web and email, as indicated by a Pew Internet & American Life Project report. Citizens are using the accessibility to find information that furthers their civic, professional, and personal lives; applying for benefits; engaging public officials; and completing transactions such as filing taxes.

Noting the rise from the last survey in March 2000 that revealed that 40 million Americans used government sites, Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project, said, “The growth of e-government in recent years has a clear payoff with citizens. One of the best ways for government agencies to improve the way they deal with constituents – and their standing with constituents – is to create a good, wide-ranging, interactive Web site.”

The findings in the Pew report come from a January 2002 phone poll of 2,391 people who go to government Web sites and an in-depth survey of 815 people that was conducted between Sept. 5 and 27, 2001.

Results include:

  • 42 million Americans have used government Web sites to research public policy issues.
  • 23 million Americans have used the Internet to send comments to public officials about policy choices.
  • 14 million have used government Web sites to gather information to help them decide how to cast their votes.
  • 13 million have participated in online lobbying campaigns.

Government Site Users
Male 53%
Female 47%
18-29 21%
30-49 49%
50-64 21%
65+ 6%
Don’t know/refused 3%
Less than college education 52%
College education or higher 48%
$0-30,000 15%
$30,000-50,000 22%
$50,000-75,000 19%
$75,000+ 30%
Don’t know/refused 14%
Source: Pew Internet & American Life Project

Overall, 60 percent of government Web site users say such sites had improved their interactions with at least one level of government, of which 49 percent of these online Americans said the Internet had improved the way they interact with the federal government. Additionally, 45 percent said it had improved the way they interact with state government and 30 percent said it had improved the way they interacted with local government.

“Internet users are finding that government sites – like government itself – address a diversity of interests,” said Elena Larsen, the principal author of the Pew report. “Some people think of government as a tax collector or law enforcer, but it turns out that 53 million people are using dot-gov sites to plan their vacations.”

Tourist and recreational information was the most sought-after content, pulling in almost four-out-of-five government site users. Research for work or school claimed a respectable second place, drawing 70 percent of users to government sites. Half of those who visited government sites had gone to get health or safety information, suggesting that the government is seen as a dependable broker of such data, although that number may have increased since the anthrax attacks of last fall.

Government access through the Internet is not limited to the Americans; in fact, a study by Taylor Nelson Sofres ranks the U.S. relatively lower than other countries that have advanced Internet usage. Use of government online services is highest in Scandinavian countries such as Norway (53 percent of the population), Denmark (47 percent) and Finland (46 percent) as well as in North America. In Canada, 46 percent of the population uses e-government; in the United States it’s 34 percent.

The study of 27 countries also found that in other markets where overall Internet usage is well established, use of government online services is low. In France, for example, 18 percent of the population used government online services in the past 12 months compared with 33 percent of the population regularly using the Internet. In Germany, 17 percent used e-government compared with 36 percent using Internet.

Across all the markets surveyed, the study found that approximately 20 percent of people have used the Internet to seek information from a government Web site. In addition, some 9 percent have used it to print off government forms and 7 percent to provide personal or household information to government organizations.

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