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Taking Political Engagement Online: An Experimental Analysis of Asynchronous Discussion Forums

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Abstract

In this study we analyse the effect of participation in an online asynchronous discussion forum on the direction and magnitude of opinion change and policy preferences relating to youth antisocial behaviour among a large sample of online panel members. Panel members were randomly assigned to conditions that manipulated: (1) the amount of information about youth antisocial behaviour provided; and (2) the extent to which panel members were able to communicate with one another. We find that engagement in online discussion forums can lead to modest shifts in preferences among those who choose to contribute to the discussion. However, because those who choose to engage in this way are a small and self-selecting minority who make little use of background information, questions remain about the utility of online discussion forums as effective means of engaging citizens to generate informed inputs into the policy process.

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