Web activism on the rise

Americans are willing to use the Internet and electronic mail to contact government officials, but many are not getting a response, a new survey finds. Of 1,016 people surveyed, 12 percent had sent e-mail to a government official and 7 percent had signed an Internet petition asking for change. However, 5 percent of those who made their electronic voices heard say they never received a response.

"I find that pretty shocking," said Alex Sheshunoff, president of E-ThePeople.com, a World Wide Web site that encourages users to contact officials through e-mail and electronic petitions. The site conducted the survey with the help of Opinion Research Corp. International, Princeton, N.J.

Sheshunoff said that there are probably many reasons for officials not responding to correspondents through the Internet, but said it is most likely because they simply have not gotten used to the medium.

"When the fax was first introduced, few used it. It was too new. There's just a slow adoption curve," he said. The survey shows that this lack of response could hurt politicians, with 5 percent saying that it makes them less likely to vote for that official.

In an example of Internet activism by government officials, the National Association of Counties' Web site allows officials to simply log on to their site and e-mail legislators about issues of concern. Since the feature began last spring, about 1,000 officials have sent more than 2,400 e-mails to Capitol Hill.

"The more people get wired and keep in the information loop, the better," said Eric Ciliberti, NACO's associate legislative director. "Everybody wins."

Of those surveyed:

    * 24 percent have visited the Web site of a city, state or federal government office.

    * 12 percent have visited a political candidate's Web site.

    * 25 percent say the federal government is "way behind" private industry in using the Internet.

    * 2 percent say they have made a campaign contribution via the Internet.

    * 6 percent say they intend to make a contribution online in the future.

    * 26 percent say their household would be more likely to vote for an official who sent them e-mail news bulletins.

    * 29 percent said they would "welcome" such bulletins.

    * 32 percent said they would be "much more likely" to vote in a local, state or federal election if it could be done online.

E-ThePeople.com was launched in August 1998 and allows users to discuss political issues, send e-mails to officials, pay parking tickets and sign 2,747 petitions on a variety of topics.

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