In a narrow view, people rule by election of the government and voting on public issues. However, the mere existence of elections and the right to vote and be elected does not necessarily guarantee the rule of people. Citizens’ participation in the political process is the key to realising their power. Opinions are divided as to the question of whether there are requirements for citizens to make participation meaningful and to fulfil their democratic obligations, between scholars with an elitist view and scholars with a pluralist view. The former believe that mal-informed or irrational participation is disastrous. ‘Democracies required democratic citizens, whose specific knowledge, competences, and character would not be as well suited to nondemocratic politics’ (Galston, 2001, p.217). Schumpeter (1976) identifies requirements for citizens to fulfil their democratic rights and to perform their obligations. He (Schumpeter, 1976, p.250) argues that every member should be ‘conscious of the goal (the common good), know his or her mind, discern what is good and what is bad, and take part actively and responsibly’. His requirements consist of three parts: an individual’s 1) ability, 2) willingness to perform his or her political rights as well as obligations and 3) his or her political performance.
An individual needs to be rational, which means to consider the long-term consequences and interests of others as well as the short-term consequences and their own interests, or democracy will result in the autocracy of the majority to the minority, as warned against by Tocqueville and Bradley (1945); current development at the cost of the future; or chaos. Both Plato (Plato and Waterfield, 1998) and Aristotle, et al. (1981) criticised the inability of the nonelites to rule and condemned democracy as ‘the rule by the mob’. Lippmann (1922) and Schumpeter (1943) also argued against public involvement in the discussion of policy issues. Therefore, the right to equal education, the right to free expression (Dahl, 1989) and free gathering, the freedom of the media, and equal accessibility to the media should be institutionally guaranteed in order to produce qualified citizens for ideal democracy. However, the latter believe that an elitist view and arguments supporting the above requirements are anti-democratic. Democracy regards every individual as equal. Requiring citizens to be rational, well-informed, and so on excludes those who are not and advantages the privileged (see Chapter 2, 2.2.5).
Findings of the research help to answer the question from the perspective of both sides. On the one hand, they provide evidence to understand whether or not the Internet provides different individuals with equal opportunities of political participation. Does their course of study, especially social science and science make a difference, and does learning English affect the participants’ online political participation? On which side do the participants stand? On the other hand, they also throw light on how different patterns of Internet use exert impact on the participants’ views and abilities, that the elitism-oriented scholars deem essential for qualified democratic citizens.