E-Government and Inequality in Public Participation

Kay Lehman Schlozman, Sidney Verba, & Henry Brady, Weapon of the Strong? Participatory Inequality and the Internet, Perspectives on Politics 8(2): 487-509 (June 2010). Cary Coglianese E-government initiatives by both political parties have sought to broaden citizen participation in the policy process. The Clinton Administration made early forays into digital government, and the Bush Administration pursued still more substantial efforts by establishing the portal known as Regulations.Gov. The Obama Administration has launched a major Open Government Initiative that seeks to foster unprecedented levels of transparency and expand participation to counteract the undue influence of the much-castigated "special interests." Will e-government efforts like these transform American democracy as proponents sometimes suggest? The Internet's ability to strengthen public engagement in the policy process remains an open – ultimately empirical – question. The early returns, from the late 1990s and early 2000s, appeared rather modest. As of at least four years ago, the clear weight of the evidence showed that most agency rulemaking escaped participation by ordinary members of the public – even following the advent of the Internet. Of course, in this fast changing world, a few years can make an enormous difference. Over the past several years, we have witnessed not only the emergence of Web 2.0 but also the extensive use of the Internet by political candidates, especially Barack Obama in 2008. A study in the most recent issue of the journal Perspectives on Politics, however, finds little has changed, confirming that the Internet has yet to transform policymaking and politics into a more egalitarian, citizen-centric process. In "Weapon of the Strong? Participatory Inequality and the Internet," three distinguished political scientists – Kay Lehman Schlozman (Boston College), Sidney Verba (Harvard), and Henry Brady (UC-Berkeley) – analyze data from one of the most systematic surveys to date on the Internet and public participation, concluding that information technology has made virtually no difference in general patterns of political participation. Their representative survey of over 2,200 Americans, conducted in August 2008 in cooperation with the Pew Foundation's Internet and American Life Project, tracked both online and offline citizen participation in politics and policymaking. Continue reading "E-Government and Inequality in Public Participation"

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