The Impact of the Internet on Social Capital: Broadband Access and Influences on Voting Turnout
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The existing scholarship into the study of social capital in the United States and elsewhere has sought to apply standards and methods to measure civic participation in diverse groups of people. Critics of Robert Putnam’s 1995 article Bowling Alone and the scholarly debate since has focused on the criteria used to calculate social capital as well as the methods used to measure trends in social capital over time. This study seeks to answer Putnam’s critics by including variables related to race and economic status, as well as incorporating measures of virtual connectivity through access to reliable, highspeed broadband internet as a newer source of social capital. This analysis quantifies social capital levels by comparing voter turnout in primary and general elections using detailed voter registration data to economic statistics, demographics, and broadband internet access for all 67 counties in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The results of this analysis identified access to broadband internet as having a positive effect on voter turnout resulting in higher social capital. Additionally, variables representing socioeconomic factors and the public profile of each election were shown to impact voter turnout, illustrating the complexities of measuring social capital. These findings show that metrics tracking the adoption of new technologies as well as traditional measures of economic health and political participation are key to understanding the evolution of social capital in the modern age.