Young Voters and the Web of Politics

Two Reports and an Illustrated Guide to Key Findings & Best Practices

By Lance Bennett and Mike Xenos

2002               2004

Youth Voting Sites in 2002

After the 2002 election, Bennett and Xenos mapped and analyzed campaign websites and nonpartisan websites devoted to youth voting. They found that campaigns made few appeals to youth and that nonpartisan youth voting websites were not well linked together and not very interactive. Click here for the executive summary of their 2002 study or here for the full working paper.

Illustrated Guide to Key Findings and Best Practices

After the 2002 election, Bennett and Xenos identified key findings and best practices. They provided screenshots, captured from the sites in their study, that illustrated their findings and demonstrated the potential of youth voting websites:

           Key Findings
           Best Practices

(Note: Some images have been slightly modified from their original format for illustrative purposes.)

Improvement in 2004

In 2004, Bennet and Xenos repeated the analysis and produced a new working paper with more positive findings: "Young Voters and the Web of Politics 2004: The Youth Political Web Sphere Comes of Age."

Abstract of the 2004 report

This project involves a network-analysis of nonpartisan youth electoral engagement websites, plus some analysis of sites created by campaigns and parties. With regard to the nonpartisan sites, three trends stood out as the most promising.  First, the size of the youth engagement web sphere has grown dramatically.  In 2002, Bennet and Xenos were only able to identify 22 sites; repeating the same techniques in the 2004 cycle yielded a list of 35, as many new organizations and websites offered political commentary and information in a youth-targeted format.  Second, in 2004 youth political websites showed marked increases in the amount of political information and issue discussion, as well as the use of interactive features unique to web communication.  A few used features similar to those found on more popular dating and social networking websites to help connect younger citizens with those sharing common interests and preferences. Third, and most notable, our recent analyses of linking practices among youth political websites revealed
a much more densely networked environment than we found in our prior investigations. Many youth-oriented political websites are making a concerted effort to include more, and more prominently placed links to other organizations working toward the common goal of greater civic and political involvement among American youth.

With regard to campaign and party websites, the data were quite limited, but available evidence suggests moderate and predictable levels of development in issues-content and features, and no substantial changes overall in terms of efforts to reach out to younger voters through web communication. Other research finds that only 8% of all campaign sites in 2004 featured an appeal to younger voters.  Political party websites, however, did feature youth-targeted content at a non-trivial rate of 27%, suggesting that mainstream political actors may be moving toward greater efforts to communicate through the web with its most avid and savvy users.