Wealthy, Educated Americans Use Online Govt. Services

May 20, 2010

While most US internet users have looked for information or completed a transaction on a government web site, wealthier and more educated Americans are much more likely to use online government services, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

Wealth, Education Linked to Online Govt. Service Usage
Fully 82% of internet users (representing 61% of all American adults) looked for information or completed a transaction on a government website between December 2008 and December 2009.

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While many Americans interact with government using online channels, this engagement is not evenly distributed across the online population, particularly when it comes to income and education. High-income and well-educated internet users are much more likely than those with lower levels of income and education to interact with government via online channels.

For example, 91% of internet users earning $50,000 or more a year get information or complete transactions on government websites, compared to 76% of those earning less than $50,000 a year. The largest disparity by income exists in the practice of going online for data about government activities. Fifty percent of internet users earning $50,000 or more a year do so, compared to only 31% of internet users earning less than $50,000 a year.

Similar gaps occur when comparing internet users of different education levels. Eighty-nine percent of internet users who have attended or graduated college get information or complete transactions on government websites, compared to 70% of internet users with a high school diploma or less. Forty-seven percent of internet users who have attended or graduated college go online for data about government activities, compared to 26% of internet users with a high school diploma or less.

Racial Differences Exist in Some Areas
Whites are significantly more likely than either African Americans or Latinos to participate in the online debate around government issues or policies (25% of online whites do this, compared with 14% of online African Americans and online Latinos) and are also much more likely to go online for data about government activities such as stimulus spending or campaign finance contributions (42% of online whites are what we call government data users, compared with 25% of online blacks and 29% of online Latinos).

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However, these differences are more modest when it comes to completing basic transactions and information searches on government websites, and minority internet users are just as likely as whites to get information about government agencies using tools such as email, blogs, online video or social networking sites.

Minorities More Trusting of Govt. Social Media Outreach
Minority Americans are significantly more likely than whites to agree strongly with the statement that government outreach, using tools such as blogs, social networking sites or text messaging, “helps people be more informed about what the government is doing” and “makes government agencies and officials more accessible.”

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African Americans and Latinos are also much more likely than whites to say it is “very important” for government agencies to post information and alerts on sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Based on these users’ expressed attitudes, these tools may offer the ability for government agencies to reach underserved populations in a way that is not currently occurring with other online offerings.

Other Findings

  • 48% of internet users have looked for information about a public policy or issue online with their local, state or federal government.
  • 46% have looked up what services a government agency provides.
  • 41% have downloaded government forms.
  • 35% have researched official government documents or statistics.
  • 33% have renewed a driver’s license or auto registration.
  • 30% have gotten recreational or tourist information from a government agency.
  • 25% have gotten advice or information from a government agency about a health or safety issue.
  • 23% have gotten information about or applied for government benefits.
  • 19% have gotten information about how to apply for a government job.
  • 15% have paid a fine, such as a parking ticket.
  • 11% have applied for a recreational license, such as a fishing or hunting license.

Social Networking Rises
Social networking has risen among all age groups in the past few years, particularly among teens and younger adults, according to other research from the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

Pew research indicates that in 2009, 73% of online teens used social networking sites in 2009, compared to 47% of online adults. Breaking down online adults into older and younger demographics, 72% of adults 18-29 use social networking sites, compared to 40% of their counterparts 30 and older. This means that in addition to using social networking for minority outreach, government agencies may want to consider communicating with younger citizens via social networking.

About the Data: Data is taken from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project Tracking Survey of 2,258 US adults conducted November 30 – December 27, 2009.

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