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The Internet has made it easier for citizens to interact with government, but Internet users and nonusers alike value having more than one way to get in touch with government, according to a report issued Tuesday by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.
Some 97 million American adults--77% of Internet users--took advantage of E-government last year through government Web portals or E-mail. That's a 50% growth rate from 2002. Still, the report says, citizens are more likely to turn to traditional means--phone calls or in-person visits--than the Web to deal with government.
"When citizens think about a tool to contact government, they have a Swiss Army knife in mind," John Horrigan, Pew Internet & American Life Project's senior researcher and principal author of the report, said in unveiling the study. "People want multiple means at hand when they want or need to turn to government. The Internet's main benefit is arming people with more information; this helps people move through their dealings with government more efficiently."
The report, called How Americans Get In Touch With Government, surveyed Americans last summer on how they deal with government, what methods they use, and how E-government compares with traditional methods such as the telephone or letters as a tool for citizens engaging public agencies.
Pew researchers conclude that E-government increases the flow of information between citizens and government, allowing people to contact agencies directly via the Web or find out more about a problem they may need government assistance with before they pick up the phone. And, researchers say, it lets citizens comment easily on civic issues of the day. Among the report's findings:
Internet users are about three times as likely as nonusers to get in touch with government, whether transacting government business--such as reapplying for a driver's license--or seeking help with a problem.
Three in 10 Internet users have E-mailed a government official to try to influence policy or change a politician's position on a law.
Half of all Internet users and 59% of online users with broadband connections at home say that the Internet has helped their relationship with government.
"The current limits of E-government have to do with people's preferences, technological assets, and the variety of problems people bring to government, not all of which lend themselves to E-gov solutions," the report says.
Among the 54% of Americans who contacted government in the past year, the telephone or in-person visits were preferred to the Web or E-mail by a 53% to 37% margin, according to the report, which finds that the more complex or urgent problems citizens face, the more likely they are to pick up the phone or visit a government office to address the problem.
This Pew Internet & American Life Project report is based on a random telephone survey conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates of 2,925 Americans age 18 and over. The Pew Internet and American Life Project is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts to explore the social impact of the Internet.