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

Ruben Durante (Sciences Po)
Filipe Campante (Harvard Kennedy School)
Francesco Sobbrio (LUISS)

Abstract: We investigate the impact of the diffusion of high-speed Internet on different forms of political participation, using municipal data from Italy from 2001 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 to 2008. However, it was positively associated with other forms of political participation, both online and offline such as the emergence of local online grassroots protest movements, and turnout in national referenda (largely opposed by mainstream parties). The negative effect of Internet on turnout in parliamentary elections is essentially reversed after 2008, when the local grassroots movements coalesce into the Five-Star Movement (M5S) electoral list. Our findings support the view that: i) the effect of Internet varies across different forms of political participation; ii) it also changes over time, as new political actors emerge who can 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”.