Email is the way to defeat voter apathy among youngsters, according to research conducted by the government's Economic and Social Research Council.

The study, which showed that only 40 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds voted in the 2001 election, looked to email to fill this void.

Spam (junk email) has increased considerably over the last few years and some political organisations have jumped on this bandwagon as a way of communicating with potential voters, but many are still ignoring this resource.

"While political organisations are online, they are failing to tap its growing potential to get their message across. Yet with half the population now online there is surprisingly strong appetite for political information," said Dr Stephen Ward, project director and Lecturer in politics.

But the survey revealed only 15 percent of internet users had ever received information about online political campaigns or even heard of such promotions.

While 29 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds said they would take no notice of political spam, if the same messages were forwarded to them by friends, rather than an unknown source, only 10 percent would ignore them.

"Direct marketing is effective, whatever the content, because it brings people the information they are interested in," said a spokesman at the Direct Marketing Association. "People are more likely to read it if a friend has sent it, as they will assume this information is even more relevant to them."

Of those people who had contacted political organisations, a massive 63 percent said they would not have done so if they'd been forced to rely on telephone or post instead.

"The internet may not revolutionise political participation but it can make a difference, especially with young people," added Dr Ward.