Politics 2.0: The Multifaceted Effect of Broadband Internet on Political Participation

Recognition Program

Authors: Ruben Durante

Journal of the European Economic Association, Vol. 16, No 4, 1094-1136, August, 2018

We study the impact of the diffusion of high-speed Internet on different forms of political participation, using municipal data from Italy from 1996 to 2013. Our empirical strategy exploits the fact that the cost of providing ADSL-based broadband services in a given municipality depends on its relative position in the pre-existing voice telecommunications infrastructure. We first show that broadband Internet had a substantial negative effect on turnout in parliamentary elections up until 2008. It was, however, positively associated with other forms of political participation, both online and offline, such as the emergence of local online grassroots protest movements. The negative effect of the Internet on turnout in parliamentary elections essentially reversed after 2008, when local grassroots movements coalesced into the Five-Star Movement electoral list. Our findings support the view that: (i) the effect of the Internet varies across different forms of political participation; (ii) it changes over time, as new political actors emerge that are able to take advantage of the new technology to attract disenchanted or demobilized voters; and (iii) these new forms of mobilization eventually feed back into the mainstream electoral process, converting “exit” back into “voice.”