Online Users Look For Government Information

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A new survey out from the Pew Internet and American Life Project shows that Americans are going online to look for government information, participate and interact with the government and use online tools for transactions with the government.

A full eighty-two percent of internet users either looked for information or completed a transaction on a government website in the last year. Even more impressive, forty-eight percent have “looked for information about a public policy or issue online with their local, state or federal government.” This is an impressive number and shows what Sunlight has long known, people are looking for information about their government and the internet is best place to deliver such information.

One statistic that amazed me was that nearly a quarter (23%) of internet users searched online for information on the how money from the stimulus bill was being spent. If you find yourself to be one of these people, this iPhone/Android application that Sunlight Labs developed may be what you’re looking for. The app layers stimulus spending, as reported by Recovery.gov, over Google Maps to provide an on-the-go way to search where the money is being spent.

Another welcome development from the report is that 22% of internet users downloaded or read text of legislation online. One of Sunlight’s more popular efforts has been to get Congress to post legislation online for at least 72 hours before debating and voting on it. It was pretty obvious to us last year that people wanted to find legislation and read it last year as thousands of people visited our Read the Bill site.

Other statistics that relate to searches for government information include:

  • 16% visited a site that provides access to government data, such as data.gov, recovery.gov or usaspending.gov
  • 14% looked for information on who contributes to the campaigns of their elected officials

Americans who use interact with the government online through social media or by searching for data are more likely to find online government presence useful than those who do not:

  • 78% of internet users agree that social media engagement by government makes government more accessible (this is compared to 63% for non-users)
  • 82% of internet users agree that social media engagement by government helps people be more informed about what government does (compared to 68% for non-users)
  • 43% of those who sought government data (stimulus money, legislation, campaign contributions, data.gov) stated that government is more open and accountable than it was two years ago (compared to 33% of all internet users and 27% of non-internet users)
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