Politics as Usual: The Cyberspace “Revolution”


Michael Margolis & David Resnick

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  • Contemporary American Politics

    Series Editors

    Richard G. Niemi, University of Rochester

    Barbara Sinclair, University of California, Los Angeles

    Editorial Board

    John Aldrich, Duke University

    Gregory Caldeira, The Ohio State University

    Stanley Feldman, SUNY Stony Brook

    Katherine Tate, University of California, Irvine

    Sue Thomas, Georgetown University

    The Contemporary American Politics series is intended to assist students and faculty in the field of American politics by bridging the gap between advanced but oft-times impenetrable research on the one hand, and oversimplified presentations on the other. The volumes in this series represent the most exciting work in political science—cutting-edge research that focuses on major unresolved questions, contradicts conventional wisdom, or initiates new areas of investigation. Ideal as supplemental texts for undergraduate courses, these volumes will examine the institutions, processes, and policy questions that make up the American political landscape.

    Books in This Series


    Thomas M. Holbrook


    Richard Logan Fox

    THE CONGRESSIONAL BLACK CAUCUS: Racial Politics in the REU.S. Congress

    Robert Singh

    POLITICAL TOLERANCE: Balancing Community and Diversity

    Robert Weissberg

    UP THE POLITICAL LADDER: Career Paths in U.S. Politics

    Wayne L. Francis & Lawrence W. Kenny

    POLITICS AS USUAL: The Cyberspace “Revolution”

    Michael Margolis & David Resnick


    View Copyright Page


    When we began our study of cyberspace in the early 1990s, we hoped that the Internet's communication capabilities, its information sources, virtual communities, newsgroups, and mailing lists would inspire unprecedented levels of active intelligent participation by citizens in politics. We took seriously the claim that cyberspace would initiate a revolutionary change in the way we conduct our democratic politics. Alas, these expectations proved far too optimistic. Over the course of a few short years, the Internet became a mass medium dominated by the World Wide Web, and the Web itself rapidly evolved from a medium for research and information exchange into one dominated by commercial interests.

    Far from revolutionizing the conduct of politics and civic affairs in the real world, we found that the Internet tends to reflect and reinforce the patterns of behavior of that world. Politics on the Internet is politics as usual conducted mostly by familiar parties, candidates, interest groups, and news media. Government itself is no longer simply a silent partner, but is coming to play an increasingly important role in shaping the new medium. Moreover, as in the real world, most people who use the Internet have less interest in participating in political and civic affairs online than they have in following sports, seeking entertainment, pursuing hobbies, shopping, or gathering information about a variety of other subjects. While the Internet may still have the potential to greatly enrich our public life, thus far that potential has not been realized.


    We want to thank the Sage Series editor, Dick Niemi, who shepherded this project from inception to completion. His critical comments and suggestions helped us to develop the original proposal, improve the book's organization, discover new material, and clarify our prose. He also provided comments from an anonymous reader on the first complete draft of manuscript, and he coordinated our efforts with those of the editors at Sage.

    Peter Labella came up with the title that encapsulated our thesis, and Diana Axelsen handled the final stages of preparation for publication with aplomb.

    In winter quarter of 1999, students in the University of Cincinnati's Undergraduate Honors Program who were enrolled in Margolis's seminar on Politics and the Internet provided additional feedback on the first complete draft. We also received research assistance from Larry Gache, Melicent Homan, Chin Chang Tu, Lillian Vasi, Robert Wheeler, and other graduate students in the Department of Political Science.

    Our colleagues at the Center for the Study of Democratic Citizenship, George Bishop, Bonnie Fisher and Joel Wolfe, provided helpful suggestions and resources. Our wives, Elaine Camerota and Kathy Resnick, read our drafts with the critical eyes of English teachers and editors. Our special thanks go to Kathy for editing the final draft and preparing the index.

    Despite all the contributions of our colleagues, students, relatives and friends, we alone must bear the blame for any mistakes that readers may discover. Then again we happily claim the credit for all the comments and suggestions that we have incorporated into our work. That, dear readers, is also politics as usual.


    For Elaine and Kathy

  • About the Authors

    Michael Margolis is Professor of Political Science at the University of Cincinnati. He received his A.B. from Oberlin College and his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Michigan. He has served on the faculties of the University of Pittsburgh and the Universities of Strathclyde and Glasgow in Scotland, and as Fulbright Lecturer at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Seoul, Korea. His publications include Political Stratification and Democracy (1972), Viable Democracy (1979), Manipulating Public Opinion (1989), Machine Politics, Sound Bites and Nostalgia (1993), Free Expression, Public Support, and Censorship (1994), and numerous articles in professional and popular journals.

    David Resnick is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Cincinnati and Director of the Center for the Study of Democratic Citizenship. He received his A.B. from Columbia College (Columbia University) and his Ph.D. from Harvard University. Before coming to the University of Cincinnati, he taught in the Department of Government at Cornell University. He has published numerous articles about the history of political theory in addition to his recent scholarly work on cyberspace.

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