This paper has been published as: Ralf Lindner and Ulrich Riehm (2011) Broadening Participation Through E-Petitions? An Empirical Study of Petitions to the German Parliament. Policy and Internet 3 (1).
Petitioning is a well established form of political participation in most liberal democracies. Yet, little is known about petitioners, their socio-demographics, motivations and assessments of petitioning processes. After the German parliament had introduced public e-petitions which are submitted, signed and discussed on the Internet in 2005, a survey of 571 traditional as well as 350 e-petitioners was carried out in 2007 as a part of a comprehensive evaluation study of the Office of Technology Assessment at the German Parliament (TAB). The results indicate that both petitioner samples are characterised by an above average level of general political participation and Internet use. Users of the e-petition system are younger than traditional petitioners, but the group continues to be dominated by men and those with higher levels of formal education to the same degree as among traditional petitioners. According to our findings, the Internet-based participation channel e-petitioning seems to amplify existing inequalities in participation patterns as they predominately attract highly mobilised and politically active individuals with a disproportionately high socio-economic status. Preliminary results of an ongoing follow-up study by and large confirm this conclusion.