Date of Award

Fall 2009

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group


First Advisor

Michael X. Delli Carpini

Second Advisor

Kathleen Hall Jamieson

Third Advisor

Vincent Price


Participation is at the core of democratic society. However, studies have shown that participation is biased toward those who are better educated, more affluent, and in greater possession of civic skills. Scholars have pointed to the Internet as a possible remedy for the disparity in participation for its potential to lower barriers and increase access to those who lack the time, money, and/or necessary civic skills. Research has been mixed about whether the Internet mobilizes new or marginalized participants to the electoral process, simply reinforces those who are active in that process already, or does both. In the 2008 U.S. presidential election campaign, all major presidential candidates utilized the Internet and email as a tool for mobilizing, recruiting, communicating and raising money. New media, especially the Internet and other Information Communication Technologies (ICTs), played a significant role in extending and perhaps even supplanting more traditional methods of political participation. Because of the greater role played by the Internet and ICTs in 2008, the ability to test the mobilization and reinforcement hypotheses was much greater than in previous elections. My research adds to the general debate by 1) testing the reinforcement versus mobilization theories related to the impact of the Internet on political participation; 2) refining these theories by testing whether mobilization or reinforcement occurs differently in online versus offline participation; and 3) exploring the extent to which mobilization and reinforcement are contingent on activities of individual campaigns. The 2008 National Annenberg Election Survey is the data source for this research.

This dissertation provides evidence to support each of the mobilization and reinforcement hypotheses I proposed. However, the mobilized groups varied across the campaign by activity. No single group either advantaged or disadvantaged in the past, was mobilized consistently throughout the primaries and general election campaigns. While this study offers evidence of mobilization and reinforcement in a number of instances and among a number of demographic groups, it raises additional questions which cannot be easily resolved with the available data. Nevertheless, the results do illustrate that Internet usage in certain instances is more likely to motivate certain groups to engage in participation activities. Further, online campaign contact is a strong predictor for most participation activities.