Minnesota E-Democracy
Participant Survey and Questions  
Posted Publicly, July 2004

Release Note from Steven Clift, E-Democracy.Org Board Chair

In 2002, E-Democracy.Org assisted Jakob Linaa Jensen with the design of a survey that was sent to a representative sample of our online forum participants.  Here is the Minnesota E-Democracy Survey Report that he provided to those who asked for a summary of results when taking the survey. 

E-Democracy.Org often finds that general surveys on the political impact of the Internet provide only limited value when it comes mapping out strategic choices.  It could very well be that the Internet will accellerate  political decline for most people who do not engage in e-democracy activities online while at the same time promoting greater involvement by those who are introduced or opt-in to online civic activities. As a volunteer-based non-profit we need to learn and share details on the most effective interventionist "e-democracy" actions and approach.  Direct experience is only one part of the equation.  To extend our work we need to work in theory as well as in practice.

Rather than expecting the Internet to democratize the world as some miracle technology and survey the whole population, we feel the research community needs to look at specific online actions (that are combined with democratic intent) and measure their impact on specific/actual users/participants.  We have experienced the democratizing impact of the Internet for a decade ... we have lived the myth that so many have incorrectly dismissed based on content analysis of political and government web sites or poorly designed or executed online political forums.  

A new generation of fundamental research questions needs to asked and answered.  Once such question - If you want to use information and communication technologies to improve democracy and citizen engagement, what are the most effective tools, approaches, models? Along with some comparative studies of similar approaches with different cultures, social groups, and political systems, we feel this approach will help e-democracy project work in theory as well as they already do in practice.

It was an honor to work with Jakob Jensen. The process allowed us to help define questions that we could learn from in order to improve our democratic work and put numbers to hunches that we had based on years of experience.  We encourage you to use and adapt these questions in your research related to online democratic activity.  We also encourage you to contact us if you'd like to work with us in your own research efforts or compare notes with other researchers who are creating the knowledge needed to share and extend best practices in e-democracy.

Survey questions sent to a sample of E-Democracy.Org forum participants in 2002:

Survey - Minnesota E-Democracy – A unique kind of democratic debate

Your activity on Minnesota E-Democracy

Question 1:
Which E-Democracy hosted forums (e-mail discussion lists) do you subscribe to:
(check all that apply)
Minneapolis Issues Forum
St. Paul Issues Forum
Winona Online Democracy
Minnesota Politics Discuss

Question 2:
In which of the forums do you spend the most time (i.e. follow most closely)?
Minneapolis Issues Forum
St. Paul Issues Forum
Winona Online Democracy
Minneasota Politics Discuss

Question 3:
For how long have you participated in one or more of the forums? (off and on or continuously)
Since 1994
Between 5 and 7 years
Between 3 and 4 years
Between 1 and 2 years
Less than a year 

Question 4:
How did you first become aware of Minnesota E-Democracy or any of its forums?

Via links on the Internet
Through an e-mail from a friend or family member
Through an e-mail from a political or professional contact
Through media coverage
Through word of mouth (off-line)
At a public meeting or event
Through print flyers or similar materials
Other, ____

Question 5:
How often do you use any of the features provided online by Minnesota E-Democracy? (read the discussion 
messages or use the E-Democracy web site to find links or information) 

Most days
Most weeks
Every month

Question 6:
Approximately how often do you post (send an e-mail to the list(s)) to any of the forums?

Most days
Most weeks
Every month

Jump question 6a (if answer anything but “never”):
Have you ever received private responses (those not shared publicly with other participants) to any of your 
postings from
(check all that apply)
Another participant
A government official
An elected official
A journalist
Someone offering information you sought
Someone supporting the opinion you expressed
Someone differing with the opinion you expressed
Someone offering abusive comments (profanity, personalized name calling, etc.)

Question 7:
What activities have you engaged in on the forum(s)?
(check all that apply)

Started new topics of discussion
Contributed my opinion to discussions
Requested information from the group
Contributed information and/or links
Forwarded messages from the forum(s) to others
Encouraged others to join the forum(s) 
Engaged in private exchanges with other forum members
Read a post which caused me to e-mail, call, write or meet with an elected official
Read a post which caused me to attend a public meeting, event or rally
Read discussions without posting

Impressions and conceptions of the forum

Question 8:
Consider your experience with the forum(s) in which you participate. How would you evaluate the following 
elements of the forum? 

Please use a scale from 1 to 5 where 1 characterizes a very negative impression and 5 characterizes a very 
positive impression
(-)                         (+) 
The overall quality of the postings  1 ---2 --- 3 --- 4 --- 5
The quality of my own postings  1 ---2 --- 3 --- 4 --- 5  __ Doesn’t Apply
The amount of new information provided 1 ---2 --- 3 --- 4 --- 5
The reliability of the information provided 
1 ---2 --- 3 --- 4 --- 5
The usefulness of the discussion  1 ---2 --- 3 --- 4 --- 5
The level of respect between the debaters 1 ---2 --- 3 --- 4 --- 5
The general atmosphere in the forum  1 ---2 --- 3 --- 4 --- 5

Please share further comments on your personal experiences - good, bad or simply notable: 

Question 9:
Consider the following factors and their effects on making Minnesota E-Democracy’discussions an ideal 
forum for online dialogue, participation and civic involvement. 

Please use a scale from 1 to 5, where 1 means a very negative effect and 5 means a very positive effect.

(-)                         (+) 
The rules and guidelines       1 ---2 --- 3 --- 4 --- 5
The forum managers (list manager/”moderator”)     
1 ---2 --- 3 --- 4 --- 5
The geographical boundaries on topics discussed    
1 ---2 --- 3 --- 4 --- 5
The present technical form of the discussion (i.e. an e-mail list not a web board) 1 ---2 --- 3 --- 4 --- 5
The information provided on the website of Minnesota E-Democracy 
1 ---2 --- 3 --- 4 --- 5

Question 10:
Try to compare Minnesota E-Democracy forums with other forms of political participation. To which forms 
do you find it most similar? 
(one to three answers, please)

Writing letters to the editor for a newspaper or journal
Participating in a meeting with other citizens
Contacting politicians by letter
Contacting politicians in person
Discussing politics with friends, colleagues or family 
Attending a political party meeting
Organizing grassroots activities
Other forms, which_________________
Do not know

Question 11
Considering the overall content in the forum(s) compared to view points expressed in other media (TV, 
radio, newspapers etc.) Is it:
More balanced
Less balanced

Question 12:
To what extent do you think the discussions affect the following areas?

Please use a scale from 1 to 5 where 1 means they have no impact, 3 means they have some impact and 5 
means they have a large impact.
No impact-some impact-large impact
Influencing politicial decision-makers       1—2—3—4—5
Setting the community agenda?       1—2—3—4—5
Influencing opically related media coverage of community or political issues? 1—2—3—4—5
Affecting public life or your community relations with others?   1—2—3—4—5

Question 13:
Over time, have the discussions changed or influenced your political opinions or your vote?
(check all that apply)

It has changed how I normally vote
It has influenced my vote in specific elections
It has changed one or more of my political opinions
It has had some impact on my political opinions
It has had no impact at all
Don’t know

Question 14:
Consider your experience with the activities of Minnesota E-Democracy. Which of the following purposes 
do you think it serves best?
(one to three answers please)

Discussion among citizens
Discussion among citizens and politicians
Affecting media coverage
Putting issues on the political agenda
Giving a voice to alternative perspectives
Giving a voice to diverse or less represented groups in society
Contacting politicians 
Searching for information about politics or community issues
Networking with other politically active people 
Organizing grassroot activities
Linking communities and neighborhoods together
Do not know

Question 15:

Have you experienced cases where Minnesota E-Democracy forum discussions have had an effect on 
political decisions, the agenda in traditional media or ”in-person” discussions in the community. If so, please 

Question 16:
What do you value most about the discussion in the forum(s)?  What do you value most about the role of 
Minnesota E-Democracy and their volunteer forum managers?

Question 17:
What should Minnesota E-Democracy do to improve the use of the Internet as a tool for citizen participation, 
political/community involvement or dialogue among the citizens and elected officials?  Do you have specific 
suggestions for E-Democracy’s web site and e-mail forums, or related online services you’d like to see in 
Minnesota related to democracy?

Political interest and participation in general

Question 18:
Do you consider yourself interested in politics and/or community affairs?

Yes, very much
Yes, to some extent
Only a little
Not really
Not at all

Question 19:
Have you participated in other discussions online? 
(check all that apply)

Yes, on a political party website/e-mail list
Yes, on a politicians website/e-mail list
Yes, on a political or community organization’s website/e-mail list
Yes, on a government website/e-mail list
Yes, on an individual’s website/e-mail list 
Yes, on a mass media website/e-mail list
Yes, on a commercial website/e-mail list
Yes, through “usenet” newsgroups
Yes, through real-time chat or group instant messaging

No, I have not

Question 20:
Have you actively participated in politics the last 12 months? 
(check all that apply)

Member of /donor to a political party
Attended a political party’s precinct caucus
Candidate for elective office
Member of any kind of government or local councils
Member of a grassroot organisation
Attended town meetings, public hearings, citizen activist meetings, etc.
Written a letter to the editor
Contacted a politician on one or more issues
Discussed politics with family, friends or colleagues
I voted in the most recent election

Question 21:
Which effect has your participation in Minnesota E-Democracy had on the following factors?: 

Please use a scale from –2 to +2, where –2 means a decrease, 0 means no effect and +2 means an increase.
Decrease ------ No effect ------ Increase
My interest in political or community issues    
-2 --- -1 --- 0 --- +1 --- +2
My knowledge of political or community issues   
-2 --- -1 --- 0 --- +1 --- +2
My overall civic involvement      
-2 --- -1 --- 0 --- +1 --- +2
My knowledge of the rationale behind other people’s opinions 
-2 --- -1 --- 0 --- +1 --- +2
My level respect for those with differing opinions from my own 
-2 --- -1 --- 0 --- +1 --- +2
My sense of connection to elected officials    
-2 --- -1 --- 0 --- +1 --- +2

Use of Internet and other media

Question 22:

How often do you use the following Internet features?

Several times a day - Every day - Weekly - Monthly - Less than that - Never
E-mail?  X ------------------- X ----------X --------- X ------------- X --------- X
Websites?  X ------------------- X ----------X --------- X ------------- X --------- X
Instant messaging? X ------------------- X ----------X --------- X ------------- X --------- X

Question 23:

Where do you access the Internet on a regular basis? 
(check all that apply)
At home
At work
At school/university
At libraries, cafes, or other public places
At the homes of friends or family
Other places

Question 24:

Which non-Internet forms of media do you use at least once a week?
(check all that apply)

I use only the Internet


Question 25:
Basic demographics
What is your gender? Male__ Female___
What is your age? ____years
What is your ZIP code _____

Question 26:
Which education do you have (please mark the highest level attained)?
_None, or grades 1-8
_Some High school (grades 9-11)
_High school graduate (grade 12 or GED certificate)
_Business, Technical, or vocational school AFTER high school
_Some college, no 4-year degree
_College graduate (B.S., B.A., or other 4-year degree)
_Post-graduate training/professional school after college (Master' degree/Ph.D., Law or Medical school)
_Don't know/Refused

Question 27:
How would you best describe yourself?
”Average” citizen
Activist citizen
Elected official
City employee
County/regional govt employee
State government employee
Don't know/Refused

At Minnesota E-Democracy’s request I have included the following two optional questions for their use in comparing the demographics of participants with recent census data.  The aggregate information will help them establish a baseline for future outreach.

Question 28:
Please check all boxes that describe your racial/ethnic background (adapted from U.S. Census categories):

Black or African American
American Indian or Alaska Native
Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander
Hispanic or latino

Don’t Know/Refused

Question 29:
Total Household Income Per Year (from US Census categories)

Less than $10,000
$10,000 - $14,999
$15,000 - $24,999
$25,000 - $34,999
$35,000 - $49,000
$50,000 - $74,999
$75,000 - $99,999
$100,000 - $149,000
$150,000 - $199,999
$200,000 or more

Thank you for the participation. You will of course remain anonymous and your answers will be treated and analyzed with the utmost discretion.

Other Research Resources
See our main Research page and check out the Democracies Online Newsire and these e-democracy resource links.