Vote of Confidence: A new survey of...

Vote of Confidence: A new survey of how Americans use the Internet has found that one in five went online at home, work or school to get news about this year's elections.

The survey from Pew Research Center in Washington estimated that about 21 million Americans, or 12% of the voting-age population, followed the election through their computers, and news was second only to work as a reason for going online.

"It's not rivaling television yet, but it's a beginning," said Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Center.

Kohut said last week that one of the most surprising aspects of their study of 1,003 online users--a follow-on to a broad survey of technology usage in America--was how many people went online to check out news about their local elections.

Politicians and others interested in the political system have complained in recent years that local campaigns are vastly under-covered by the media. National newspapers and television cover the presidential and congressional races, but local papers and TV stations cover far less politics than a decade or so ago, they argue.

Kohut suggested that local sites on the Web may be filling in that gap.

"The use of the Internet for learning about local campaigns is really the sleeper in this survey," he said. Local news sites were picked up as often as the larger national news sites, even though the normal Internet user does not tend to be interested in local news as a rule.

Kohut said there is little indication that news on the Net will replace traditional media. But he said a surprisingly large percentage of young people "who have never had the news habit" were picking up news from the Internet incidentally.

This is a group that television news organizations hope to lure as viewers. Such hopes might be quickly dashed if they turn instead to the computer.

"This may be the early sign that computers are going to give television news fits," Kohut said.

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