The Impact of Online versus Offline Campaign Information on Citizens’ Knowledge, Attitudes and Political Behaviour: Comparing the German Federal Elections of 2005 and 2009 | Mannheimer Zentrum für Europäische Sozialforschung

Julia Partheymüller, Thorsten Faas
The Impact of Online versus Offline Campaign Information on Citizens’ Knowledge, Attitudes and Political Behaviour: Comparing the German Federal Elections of 2005 and 2009

German Politics, 2015: 24, Heft 4, S. 507-524
ISSN: 0964-4008 (print); 1743-8993 (online)

Against the background of the debate about how the internet changes democratic processes, this article assesses the impact of online versus offline campaign information on citizens’ knowledge, attitudes and political behaviour using data from two pre-/post-election surveys conducted at the German federal elections in 2005 and 2009. Our results show that sophisticated and less sophisticated citizens alike gain knowledge when using online information. Moreover, we find that people exposed to online information develop less ambivalent attitudes towards candidates and parties but do not take on more extreme issue positions. Online information is ineffective in stimulating turnout but compared to traditional news media, the internet gives smaller parties the chance to gain votes. We conclude that overall online information can enhance election campaigns. However, the amount of change should not be overstated as the effects are similar to those of offline political information and depend on the campaign context.