#VT Legislative Tech Use, 2013

A survey of communications technology adoption in the Vermont legislature

In May, the Vermont Technology Working Group surveyed members of the Vermont legislature on their email and social media usage. We had three goals for this project:

1.

To shed light on the rate of technological adoption of different platforms by elected officials

2.

To understand which platforms were being used to for different purposes, such as communicating with constituents or campaigning for public office

3.

To see if there are geographical disparities in email and social media usage across Vermont.

Methods: Analog to digital

We created a survey with questions about email and social media usage. We then printed up a postcard with a link to the online survey as well as a QR code that would take users directly to it. A hard copy was placed in each legislator's mailbox at the capital, then 3 supportive house members and a Senator assisted us with outreach to colleagues on the floor. We collected survey responses for three weeks.

Who responded?

42 out of 180 legislators (150 in the house, 30 in the senate) completed the survey, for a response rate of 23%. The rate varied geographically from no responses in Grand Isle to half the Caledonia delegation.

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98% of respondents use email in their capacity as elected officials


69% of respondents use social media in their capacity as elected officials


36% of respondents indicated that Facebook and email are the most useful resources for engaging with the public on the issues they care about, followed by Front Porch Forum (14%)


"I don't have the time."

- Cited most frequently as the reason for not using social media


Is there a digital divide? Maybe. 73% of the "Urban Legislators" of Chittenden County use social media in their work, compared with 60% of those in the rest of the state.


So what does this mean? What's next?

To the best of our knowledge, no survey similar to this one has been carried out in Vermont. And so while the overall response rate was lower than we expected it to be, the data do provide a baseline for evaluating technology use by elected officials in Vermont. We now know that well over half of legislators use email or social media in their work.

Over half the population in Vermont lives in rural areas, many of which have low access to broadband, and so it stands to reason that social media adoption might be lower in these areas. However, the number of respondents doesn’t allow us to extrapolate with any sort of certainty what social media usage is in rural areas throughout the state. Also, because we intended this survey to be very short, we did not ask a number of questions that could have deepened our understanding of the geographic and demographic differences among elected officials in their technology use. A more complete survey of elected officials in the future would take into account broadband access, age, gender, race/ethnicity and town.

In addition, we’d like to know how these numbers compare to the overall number of Vermonters using social media on a regular basis, but such a survey is beyond our current capacity. It’s our hope that a more complete survey with elected officials and Vermont residents could shed light on broader technology and social media adoption trends that would allow us to compare state-level data with national-level data.