Civic Engagement and Internet Use in Local Governance: Hierarchical Linear Models for Understanding the Role of Local Community Groups

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Administration and Society





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Civically and politically interested individuals often use the Internet to facilitate and augment their civic and political participation. At the local level, such people also use the Internet to communicate and share information with fellow members of the local community groups to which they belong. In doing so, local groups help to create awareness and draw citizens into public deliberation about local issues and concerns, not only offline (a role they have played for many years) but also online. This research examines the interplay of individual level and local group-level factors through an analysis of household survey data from the town of Blacksburg, Virginia, and surrounding areas in 2005 and 2006. It seeks to reconcile different levels of analysis—individual and group levels—relating to the use and impact of the Internet on civic engagement. This study identifies the distinctive influences at both the individual level and the community group level by applying a multilevel statistical model (specifically, the hierarchical linear model). First, at the individual level of analysis, this study found that internal and external political efficacy and community collective efficacy were significant individual-level factors explaining the Internet use for civic and political purposes. Second, at the group level of analysis, community group Internet use—which includes listservs, discussion forums, and blogs, among other emerging Internet technologies—and group political discussion were revealed as key influences on citizens’ perspectives on the helpfulness of the Internet for civic and political purposes. Finally, in multilevel analysis, when taking individual-level variables into account, the group-level variables (group Internet use and group political discussion and interests) are positively associated with the views of the helpfulness of the Internet in connecting with others in the community and becoming more involved in local issues.


e-democracy, e-government, information and communication technologies, Internet, civic engagement, local governance, local community group, hierarchical linear model


Public Affairs, Public Policy and Public Administration

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