Introduction of the topic
In the last years, Internet has brought many changes to the relation between citizens and political participation, more precisely how we can interact with enterprises, organizations and, obviously how we can act within the political sphere. Internet was and is a authentic and powerful revolution.
Facebook, Twitter, on-line petitions, blogs, newspapers...etc are new channels for the exchange of ideas, opinions and information. Every electoral campaign, any political party and each candidate fights to attract voters and transmit their message. Internet has greater impact every day. Such as we were able to see in Obama's last election which showed us the importance of the union between youth, Internet and political participation.
Scientific and societal relevance
However, what is the real effect of Internet on the mobilization of people? Why should political parties pay attention to the changes happening within Internet? Can those parties mobilize voters through Internet? What is the role of citizens in Internet? Is it increasing or changing political participation?
There are many questions yet about the changes that Internet brought in the political participation. In my research paper I want to analyze exactly the consequences of Internet on youth and their role in signing petitions. Young people pay more attention and time to Internet, they are the principals users and maybe they are the best adapted to the changes brought by Internet.
Therefore, my research question is clear: Does Internet access increase youth political participation? In this specific case I want to study if Internet increases the number of petitions signed among young people or not. As for my research focus, I am further delimiting the group of young people being studied to the age between 15-29 years old. I will concentrate my investigation on signing petitions. On the other hand, the countries studied will be Argentina, Germany (before 1990 only West Germany), Great Britain, Japan, Spain, Sweden and United States and I am going to employ the five waves made by the World Values Survey: 1981, 1990, 1995, 2000 and the recent and last wave in 2005-2008. I have chosen the full period because I would like to analyze if there has been a possible increase of signing petitions since 1995 and if this increase has been caused by Internet or if it was a part of a general global trend.
At last, these countries have a reasonable variability between per capita income, inequality, democratic period and social-cultural components which might influence the outcome of my research questions.
My dependent variable
For my research proposal I am going to define “youth political participation in signing petitions ” as dependent variable and “Internet access” as my independent variable. I want to remember that “political participation” will be only the number of signed petitions.
I think Internet access is a good measure to study the evolution of users in Internet and easily to compare longitudinally. On the other hand, the evolution on time of signing petitions can be a good instrument to measure an increasing or decreasing of youth political participation in this concretely field.
Explaining political participation is not easy and it is very hard to measure. First of all, we need to define concepts and finally select only a little field within the broad concept of political participation. According to some authors and their definitions, political participation is basic and is the core for democracy. Verba and Nie give us a very short definition: “behavior designed to affect the choice of governmental personnel and/or policies” (1972: 2-3). On the other hand, Eva Anduiza and Agusti Bosch (2004) offer a more complete definition: “any citizen action aimed at influencing the political process and its outcomes. These actions can be targeted to the choice of public office, to the formulation, development and implementation of public policies, or the action of other political actors. Political participation requires an observable behavior performed in a public or group by a citizen to be considered as such”.
Within political participation, we must not forget the division between conventional and non- conventional political participation. Manuel Sabucedo (1986: 165) says the conventional political participation “associated with actions concerning during an electoral process, this participation is strengthened from the power of the State and the Constitution. Conventional political participation indicates the right of citizenship, the right to vote is not measured by social class, party, sex or education. It occurs in every democracy and is enshrined in the law, which can be easily controlled and verified”. Moreover, unconventional political participation “refers to actions such as petitions, lawful demonstrations, boycotts, legal and illegal strikes, damage to property, sabotage, personal violence, etc. This participation goes beyond the institutional mechanisms for participation and, sometimes, makes opposition to the established constitutional law” (Ibid.).
In my study, I am going to focus on the Internet access between my seven selected countries and their relation across the evolution of signing petitions and youth.
How the causality runs and the relation between my independent variable and my dependent variable Internet is a powerful tool to communicate and provides a distinctive structure of opportunities that has the potential to renew interest in civic engagement and participation (Norris 2001). No doubt, we can say that the Arab revolutions in Tunis, Egypt or Libya would be impossible without Internet. Why? Because Internet democratizes the access to the information (José Luis Orihuela 2006). Besides, the organization through Internet is very cheap, simple and fast. Internet is the ideal tool to extend democracy and fight against dictatorships (Lucia Liste and Indra de Soysa 2011). It is easily to imagine, hence, that a greater Internet access can change the parameters in political participation. Young people are very interested in the “new style of politics” which are more participative and focuse on localized and immediate issues. Twitter, Facebook or Al-Jazeerawere -and are- protagonist in the Tunisian and Egyptian changes. These movements showed us that people were interested in political participation and they wanted to change their countries.