Kids these days: political knowledge, young people, and the internet
In order for Americans to fully and effectively participate in their government, they must be adequately informed and knowledgeable about the policies, people, and processes therein. Prior literature has shown that those with lower levels of political information (women, less educated, and the young) are often the same groups whose political interests are under-represented in government. For this reason, this dissertation seeks to determine where and how political knowledge is distributed amongst demographic groups and also how, specifically, Internet access and use affect overall levels of political knowledge. As with most new media, political scientists were unsure the effect the Internet might have on the American public. Initial theories on ways the Internet would trigger population-wide gains in political knowledge have given way to more current theories about why this has not been the case. This dissertation's purpose is to add to the literature on the Internet and political knowledge by assessing the ways traditional political knowledge gaps have been affected by increases in Internet access and use. At the forefront of the three major analyses is the political knowledge gap between young people and older cohorts. Are the young, often provided with more opportunities for access and higher skills in Internet use, gaining political knowledge at a faster rate than older cohorts? Analyses of the effects of Internet access and Internet use are performed over separate survey data. One of the analyses in this dissertation also focuses on two additional political knowledge gaps, the education-and gender-based knowledge gaps, and how frequency of Internet use compares to the use of more traditional media. In addition to spotlighting the ways Internet and other media have affected political knowledge levels, measurement issues relating to political knowledge in the American National Election surveys are also addressed. In two of the three analyses, new composite items are constructed and tested as measures of political knowledge of the American population.