Christian Pieter Hoffmann, Christoph Lutz | Policy & Internet
Scholarship on political participation and the Internet has found that Internet use may foster both online and offline political participation, while also finding pronounced inequalities in online political participation based on demographic and psychological characteristics. The article advances our theoretical understanding of how inequalities in online and offline political participation emerge through cognitive pathways, by applying social cognitive theory to conceptualize the relationship between environmental influences, cognition and behavior. Using survey data from 1,488 Internet users in Germany, we investigate how the cognitive dispositions of social media self‐efficacy and online privacy concerns mediate the effect of socio‐demographics on Internet use, and online as well as offline political participation. Results indicate that younger citizens are more likely to engage in online political participation, while older, more educated, and male citizens are more likely to engage in offline political participation. Internet use is positively associated with online political participation, which is closely related to offline participation. Self‐efficacy fully mediates the effect of education and gender on Internet use and online political participation. Thus, Internet use simultaneously amplifies and mitigates pre‐existing participation divides, depending on users’ cognitive dispositions.