24 The Engaged Electorate: New Media Use as Political Participation
Erik P. Bucy Indiana University
Paul D'Angelo Villanova University
John E. Newhagen University of Maryland
An enduring paradox of contemporary U.S. democracy is the apparent stability of the political system in the face of widespread voter disaffection, withdrawal from conventional forms of civic participation, and political ignorance ( Conway, 1991). Given a politically uninformed mass citizenry ( Neuman, 1986), anger, apathy, and cynicism in the electorate ( Cappella & Jamieson, 1996; Edsall, 1996; Morin & Balz, 1996; Pearlstein, 1996; Tolchin, 1996), low voter turnout ( Conway, 1991), and limited opportunities for meaningful participation in mass politics ( Entman, 1989; Fallows, 1996), how does democracy continue to effectively function, if it indeed requires the active consent of the governed to operate? This chapter addresses the question of social-political stability by investigating evidence for ways in which the so-called new media, including political call-in television, talk radio, and the Internet, are emerging as new forms of civic participation that facilitate and enable social connections rather than tear apart the societal fabric, as critics of traditional mass media contend.
Political stability and legitimacy were called into question during the Vietnam and Watergate eras when political scientists (e.g., Robinson, 1975) noticed declining levels of institutional trust and attributed part of this crisis