As more Americans than ever turn to the Internet for election news, more are finding it at Web sites that share their own political views, a new survey finds.
Overall, the Pew Internet and American Life Project found an American public discovering the Internet as a way to engage more deeply — and with more partisan fervor — in presidential politics.
Pew found that 55 percent of voting age Americans connected with the 2008 presidential election online, up from 37 percent four years ago. That includes those who said they went online for political news, to converse about the election or spread campaign materials using e-mail, Twitter and other tools.
In line with recent trends, the survey found nearly as many Americans (26 percent) turned to the Web as they did print newspapers for their main source of election news — though TV remained the dominant medium.
Of those that ventured online, a third said they visited mainly sites that shared their political views, up from 26 percent in 2004. Both Democrats and Republicans grew more likely to visit sites with an explicit partisan slant.
"People are not blank slates coming to weigh the candidate dispassionately," said Aaron Smith, a Pew research specialist. "People are really going online to be the first person to find out what's going on with their team and spread the word. They see themselves more as activists."
Whether that's a function of the Internet as a medium for political discourse, or simply the result of an election season that saw many Americans riveted to the contest between Barack Obama and John McCain is unknown.
Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project, said the uptick in Internet activism "was taking place in an environment where a lot more people were already engaged in the election. You can't isolate the Internet's impact from that context."
The results were based on telephone survey conducted Nov. 20 to Dec. 4 and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.