Users of Politicians’ Websites

Excerpt from my dissertation, theoretical part. Part of the subchapter on Internet Use(rs).

Users of politicians’ homepages are not only different from the overall population, but also from other internet users. A representative survey of the German population over 16 (Merz et al. 2006:26 et seqq.), which provided data on internet use and use of politicians’ websites showed that only a third of the 45% of the overall population who used the internet at the time (2002) had ever at least once visited a politician’s website (which translates into 14% of the overall population). While the gender gap in online use has decreased over the years (roughly 69% of the male population connected to the internet in 2007 and roughly 57% of the female population, compared with 10% and 3,3% respectively in 1997) the study found more than two thirds (70%) of the visitors of politicians’ websites to be men. A divide was also found concerning education levels: while only 20% of the overall population had Abitur, the percentage among internet users amounted to 33% and even 41% among users of politicians’ websites. Finally, people with a higher salary were found to use politicians’ websites at higher percentages than those with smaller salaries. Unsurprisingly, users of politicians’ homepages were found to be more interested in politics than other internet users, who are more interested in politics than the overall population. They also feel more confident about their political knowledge, spend more online-time with politics and also generally spend more time online than the overall internet population. Visitors of politicians’ websites also display a more pronounced attachment to a specific party than the overall internet users and the overall population; only every third user of politicians’ websites claimed to have no party attachment (35% vs. 45% of all internet users and 44% of the overall population). Both internet users and the more specific group of users of politicians’ websites are more orientated towards liberty than the general population (31% and 34% vs. 21%).

Merz et al. (2006:31) draw the following conclusion:
“The average user of politicians’ websites is male, educated and under 50 years old. He has comparably high salary, is internet-affine and privileges liberty over safety and equality. He is very interested in politics and estimates his political knowledge to be very good. He is attached to a certain party and spends a comparably large part of his online time with political activities.”

For politicians’ websites, this means that a very concrete group has to be targeted and that addressing and wording should be adjusted to the comparably young age, the high education and the high political confidence of the users, obviously within the framework of what the party/the politician stands for in order to preserve credibility and authenticity.

Usually, politicians’ websites target party loyalists, sympathisers and undecided voters – all of them being potential voters – but also journalists and volunteers. People with attachment to other political parties are not targeted specifically, because the selection mechanisms inherent in the internet and the low intensity of persuasion practically exclude them as a potential target group (cf. Merz et al. 2006:40). The same is valid for non-voters, because their mobilisation is too resource-intensive (ibid). Undecided voters, however, are interesting for political communicators because they represent 35% of the users of politicians’ homepages. According to Merz et al. (2006:38 et seq.), they access the site in order to make an informed choice and are “open for arguments”.

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