Most Americans interested in the presidential tug of war in Florida are watching television, primarily the cable news channels, to follow the developments, according to a study about the role of the Internet in the election.
The study, which tracked Internet use before and after the election, found that while one in five Americans went online during the final weeks of the campaign to get news and information, only one in 10 are using the Net to keep informed about the ballot-counting.
"An overwhelming number, 83 percent of those who told us they were following this story to some degree, are going to television, and almost half of that to cable," said Andy Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.
He said 35 percent of those surveyed in the two weeks after the election said they were paying "very close" attention to whether Al Gore or George W. Bush would wind up in the White House. An additional 39 percent of the 3,234 questioned said they were following it "fairly closely."
That's about the same level of interest Americans had in President Clinton's scandal involving Monica Lewinsky. But it does not come anywhere near the interest there was in the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado, when 68 percent of Americans surveyed said they were paying very close attention to the story. CNN's monthly ratings for November were its highest since September 1995. "That was the height of the O.J. trial," said Kris Robinson, a spokeswoman for CNN, referring to when O.J. Simpson faced murder charges in the slayings of his ex-wife and her friend.
Despite television's kingpin role, Kohut said the Net established itself as a major source of election news this year, with 18 percent of Americans turning to it during the campaign, compared with only 4 percent in 1996. And 43 percent of those using the Net for political information said it affected their voting decisions, up from 31 percent four years ago.
The main reason respondents used the Internet was convenience, not to find different information providers. And those seeking election news turned primarily to brand-name news sites.
Since 1996, visits to specialized political sites have dropped 50 percent, and use of candidates' Web sites has fallen from 25 percent four years ago to 7 percent this year.