If you want to see what influential US Internet pundit/policy wonks think about the potential of the Internet to change politics you should keep an eye on the Extreme Democracy weblog and download the chapters of the book in progress there.
“Emergent Democracy”:http://www.extremedemocracy.com/archives/2004/08/chapter_1_emerg.html which I “commented on earlier”:http://blog.org/archives/000687.html is there for example. It has been edited since my comments but it still appears to overlook the very real problem of the continuing digital divide both in the US and across the world and both in Internet access and, more importantly, in the forms of Internet use. I suspect most of the chapters of this book shares this problem though I have yet to read more of them.
All the evidence I have been able to derive (based on the raw data of a Pew survey in Mar/April 2003 which was made into a “report”:http://www.pewinternet.org/PPF/r/113/report_display.asp) suggests weblogs – particularly political ones – are read by a very small audience. To quote some earlier research I did based on the Pew data:
70% of Internet users in America had never visited the websites of other families or individuals, only 11% of American Internet users had visited web diaries or blogs of other people and only half of these had visited the diaries or blogs of people who they have never met. Secondary analysis of the raw data provided by Pew reveals that 18% of those who have their own home pages and 71% of those who write web diaries or weblogs read other people’s weblogs. The weblog-mediated public sphere that exists therefore would appear to be largely populated by those already in the field and interested journalists and academics.
That’s not to say that weblogs lack political significance – it’s just that they appear to be exercising this influence by better connecting some already well-connected people to each other and to the US mainstream media and having an impact that way (see a paper on the subject I “commented on earlier”:http://blog.org/archives/cat_academia.html#001178).
The notion that a significant number of ordinary people are being enabled to deliberate via weblogs and that this is having or will have a significant impact on US politics seems both unproven and unlikely (except at the margins). Leaving aside the question of deliberation, however, it seems that the Internet is proving a good way to mobilise the engaged and do fundraising – somewhat confounded by the fact that this is shaping up to be one of the most polarised elections in recent years.