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Last Updated: Thursday, 28 October, 2004, 00:42 GMT 01:42 UK
US voters 'going online for news'
George Bush and John Kerry at a recent TV debate
Surfers go online to find differences between Bush and Kerry
Nearly half of Americans online have used the web to get information about the upcoming US presidential election.

That is double the number who used the net during the 2000 campaign according to research group, the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

Americans are increasingly going online for political news and commentary, its report found.

It suggests that the web is playing a positive role in democratic debate on a wide range of issues.

Let's have a debate

The study follows concerns expressed by some commentators that people would use the internet to reinforce existing political views rather than challenge them.

The survey asked both online and offline citizens how they had heard about debates as wide-ranging as gay marriage, free trade, the Iraq war and the arguments for and against presidential candidates George Bush and John Kerry.

Consistently internet users, especially those with broadband connections, had encountered the most arguments on both sides of the debates.

The statistics produced took into account the fact that internet users have higher levels of education and political interest than those that do not have access.

Broadening horizons

"Internet users do not burrow themselves into informational warrens where they hear nothing but arguments that reinforce their views," said John Horrigan, research specialist at the Pew Project, a non-profit group dedicated to looking at the social impact of the web in the US.

People are using the internet to broaden their political horizons, not narrow them
Kelly Garrett, co-author of report
"Instead, internet users are exposed to more political points of view and more arguments against the things they support. That should be heartening to those who are concerned about the future of democratic debate," he said.

More than 40% of online American had got news and information about the presidential campaign from the web, the survey found.

Television remains the primary source of information but 31% of broadband users cited the internet as their main source of information about the US election.

The internet is exposing more Americans to different points of view, said Kelly Garret, co-author of the report.

"People are using the internet to broaden their political horizons, not narrow them," she said.

War arguments

Some 67 million people in the US had received information or news about the Iraq war via e-mail or online.

The arguments surfers were typically hearing included the pro-war line that Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator who tortured and murdered his own people.

The most common anti-war argument was that the Bush administration had misled Americans about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction.

The survey team conducted 1,500 telephone interviews. It was a collaboration between the Pew Internet Project and the University of Michigan's School of Information.

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