Wired for Politics? Researchers Examine Internet's Impact
Date: March 3, 2000
By: Carey Hoffman
Phone: (513) 556-1825
Photo by: Colleen Kelley
Archive: Research News
There's a specific reason quotation marks were used in
the title of Michael Margolis and David Resnick's new book,
Politics as Usual: The Cyberspace "Revolution."
No one can be quite sure it is a revolution. Undeniably, the Internet has had a
tremendous impact upon society. But Margolis and Resnick, both on
UC's political science faculty, think the long-run verdict on the
Internet may be less a revolution and more comparable to that of
other mass media, such as radio and television.
"Each medium as
it came into society was going to remake things," said Margolis.
"Television was going to bring culture. People were saying it was
going to bring ballet to a mass audience," added Resnick. "But it
only works if it reflects the mass interests of its
And what Margolis and Resnick found was that most
people aren't interested in using the Internet to change the world.
They prefer to use it as consumers looking for entertainment,
information and opportunities to socialize.
"Our conclusion is
that the world has changed the Internet much more than the Internet
has changed the world," Resnick said. Their book, part of Sage
Publications' Contemporary American Politics series, takes a broad
view of all political aspects of the Internet. In addition to examining the Internet's impact
on politics and campaigning, the authors also tackle topics such as the political
implications of regulation of the Internet (e.g. the current debate over taxing
e-commerce), and the Internet's impact upon the way governments and citizens relate to each other.
campaigns in full swing right now, both authors are naturally
paying close attention to how the Internet is being employed. What
they've found doesn't veer far from other recent campaigns they've
studied - established political forces continue to dominate, even
while absorbing the Web into their efforts.
"Even taking the
(John) McCain rebellion, you are still within the Republican
party," Margolis said. "But there are advantages to be taken
advantage of. Campaigns can save considerable communication costs
and they can use the Internet for organization. Jesse Ventura's
campaign (for Minnesota governor) was very successful in organizing
and moving people around with the Internet, so that's a success
Much has been made of McCain using the Internet to raise
between $4-5 million for his campaign. Ironically, though, Resnick
points out: "What's he spending that money on? Traditional media
buys." McCain's fund raising is showing one variation on Internet
use the authors find interesting. Prior to his campaign catching
fire in January, only 30-35 percent of McCain's campaign
contributions had come in gifts of $1,000 or more, compared with
percentages in the 60s for the other three main presidential contenders. About 30 percent of McCain's total came in amounts of $200 or less. "The point is, political fund-raising on
the Internet does facilitate small contributors, if you decide to
go after them," Margolis said.
Beyond politics, accessing
government services is one area where the Internet is having an
Government agencies have moved into the business of
setting up their own web sites. Common transactions like license
renewals have been made simpler for everyone involved. The Internet
is also an effective avenue for citizens to request government
services. "To the extent that citizens are clients of government,
this is like what has happened with the business world," Resnick
The big question still developing for governments is
regulation of the web. "If you really want to see the future of the
Internet, you have to go offline and see the regulation going on
behind the Internet," Resnick said. The authors compare this stage
of development to the Old West, where people were moving into a
frontier and starting to ponder where they would turn for services
for their new lives.