Stateline Story

E-Government Use Up 50 Percent, Survey Finds

  • May 25, 2004
  • By Pamela Prah

Many more Americans went online for state, local or federal information in 2003 than the previous year, but the old-fashioned telephone and face-to-face visits still rank supreme for many people who want information from their government, according to a May 24 report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

Nearly 80 percent of Internet users in the United States 97 million Americans went to state, local or federal government Web sites in 2003 to get information, ask a question or express an opinion, a 50 percent jump from 2002, the Pew project said in the 28-page "How Americans Get in Touch with Government."

When the survey was first conducted in 2000, the Pew project found less than half of Internet users about 40 million Americans said they went online to a government Web site for information.

The increase in e-government users is a little quicker than expected, said John B. Horrigan, the project's senior research specialist and author of the report. He credited the boost in e-government to more people having high-speed broadband connections at home that make it easier for people to go online to communicate or seek answers.

The Pew Internet & American Life Project is a Washington, D.C.-based think tank funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts, the same organization that also funds Stateline.org. The survey's results are based on random telephone interviews of nearly 3,000 Americans last summer.

People who have Internet access are more likely to contact state, local and federal government officials than their non-Web counterparts. More than 70 percent of Internet users said they contacted the government in some way in the past year, compared to 23 percent of those who aren't Web savvy, according to the survey.

Slightly more Internet users were satisfied with state Web sites (65 percent) than with federal and local sites (both 62 percent).

A slight majority (51 percent) would rather phone or make a personal visit than go online to contact state governments, the study found, while more than one-third would opt to click on a Web site to contact the federal government. Even more (65 percent) prefer to visit or call to get information from local government than go online. A main reason for the difference, the project said, is that it may be easier for people to swing by city hall rather than go online.

Among Internet users, 30 percent said they used e-mail or the Internet to try to change a government policy or influence a politician's vote.

People went online to state web sites to get information about drivers' or other licenses, to ask a specific question or to express an opinion.

The project also found:

  • 41 percent of users did research involving official government statistics or documents online.
  • 28 percent of Internet users got advice from a government agency about a health or safety issue. 
  • 27 percent of Internet users sent an e-mail to the federal, state or local government.
  • 23 percent of Internet users got information or applied for government benefits online.

Horrigan said the Internet's main benefit is arming people with more information, but he stressed the Web is not the only way. "People want multiple means at hand when they want or need to turn to the government," he said.