Year of Publication

2015

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

College

Arts and Sciences

Department

Sociology

First Advisor

Dr. Thomas Janoski

Abstract

This dissertation analyzes the linkages between new media and the possible emergence of the youngest members of the voting population (the “digital native” generation, who have grown up concurrently with the rise of the internet as a means of communication). The main question is whether this digital native generation will have more civic and political participation due to their use of online news sources and social media communication on news media websites and elsewhere on the internet. Regression analyses are used to explain civic and political participation, using American National Election Studies (ANES) from the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections. The analysis is done in three components. In the first paper, looking at the 2008 election, the impact of the “new media” was important for all generations, but the oldest generations—rather than the digital natives—had the highest levels of civic and political participation. In other words, the digital native generation did not, in fact, have more civic or political participation. In the second paper on the 2008 ANES data set, the impact of urban and rural differences were also tested to determine whether a presumed lack of access to new media would impact civic and political participation. This also proved not to be the case. Connected to this, an examination of various regions of the country did not have a significant impact upon levels of participation. In the third paper on both the 2004 and 2008 ANES, the explanation of civic and political participation diverges. Although online news consumption may be important for civic participation, members of older generations still participate more. For political participation, the youngest generation in 2004 had a positive effect on participation, which was the opposite result of the study on the 2008 ANES. Education was more important in 2008 than in 2004. Generally, the overall investigation finds that while new technology does have a sizeable impact upon political and civic participation, the digital natives’ more frequent use of these new media is not large enough to counteract the more traditional explanations of civic and political participation. Older generations of voters have higher incomes, more education, and more free time. These factors lead to higher levels of political and civic participation, compared to members of the youngest generation. As such, the “digital revolution” has been something of a “digital dud”, with significantly less impact than has been previously suggested by journalists in the media and indeed by some academics. Nonetheless, the impact of the new media affects all of the generations studied, and is thus still noteworthy and significant.