Americans turned in growing numbers to the Internet for political news and information during the 2006 U.S. congressional campaign, as Web videos and blogs became more widespread, a report on Wednesday said.

Fifteen percent of those surveyed said they relied on the Web for the bulk of their political news in 2006, up from 7 percent in the 2002 congressional campaign but down 2 points from 2004, when there was also a presidential race. Presidential contests tend to draw more intense interest.

“We might begin to see 2008 as the year when the distinction between ‘virtual’ politics and ‘real life’ politics becomes much less meaningful,” said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet Project and co-author of the report.

“Plenty of candidates will have MySpace pages and lots of other activists will create political material that will spread virally online.”

Political campaigns may also crop up on popular Internet worlds like “Second Life,” he said.

Still, the Internet trailed the top three sources of news, television with 69 percent, newspapers with 34 percent and radio with 17 percent, the survey found. Respondents were permitted two answers.

Videos on sites like played a role in the 2006 campaign, widely distributing gaffes such as Sen. George Allen calling a worker for his challenger a “macaca” — referring to an African monkey but sometimes used as a racial slur.

Allen lost his re-election bid by less than 10,000 votes.

In the 2008 race for the White House, former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards unveiled his plans to run for the Democratic nomination via his Web site and e-mail, while Illinois Democratic Sen. Barack Obama on Tuesday posted a video online revealing his bid.

The Pew study pointed to the growth of high-speed Internet, known as broadband, as contributing to the jump in usage.

“Young broadband users seem to be replacing (their) time with newspapers with online news outlets, while older broadband users go online for political information as a supplement to other media,” said John Horrigan, the associate director for research and co-author of the report.

The Pew survey polled 2,562 adults and had a margin of error of plus or minus two percentage points.

Copyright © 2007 Reuters Limited

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