Abstract - The Information Society 27(1)

Internet Use and Political Participation: Reflections on the Normalization/Mobilization Controversy

Fadi Hirzalla, Liesbet van Zoonen, and Jan de Ridder

Web-based and theoretical studies often claim that internet use can mobilize political participation, while survey-based studies generally conclude that in-ternet use will normalize political participation. This paper aims to offer some reflections on the discrepancies between these mobilization and normalization theses. We argue that mobilization claims tend to focus on manifestations online in specific cases, while normalization theses are normally built on assessments of general internet use patterns. Consequently, more specific surveys must be employed to evaluate the nature of political internet use. Based on such a specific survey (N=819), we investigate the use of two online vote advice applications (VAAs) during the Dutch 2006 parliamentary elections. VAAs are increasingly popular in democracies worldwide, especially among a group that is often considered ‘apathetic’ about electoral politics: youth. With structural equation modeling, however, we find that the use of the Dutch VAAs fits the mobilization thesis among youth and the normalization thesis among older people.

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