Commentary

Voters Turn to Social, Mobile for Political News

The midterm elections are upon us, at last. Like most Americans, I am profoundly grateful that this political season -- in effect, a combination pageant and reality show starring the worst people our society can find outside of penitentiaries, including some who will doubtless end up there eventually -- is almost over.  Until then, however, as with any good reality show we are all obsessing over these shameless drama queens on social media.

That’s according to the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, which surveyed 2,003 American adults, including 1,494 registered voters, and found that more Americans are getting their political news via social media and mobile devices this year. Overall 16% of registered votes said they follow their favorite candidates on social media, up from 6% in 2010.

No surprise, that proportion is higher among younger voters, with 21% of voters ages 30-49 following candidates on social media, and 24% of voters ages 18-29. Those figures are up from 6% and 14% in 2010, respectively.

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There isn’t a big partisan divide in political social media activity, with 18% of Republican supporters and 15% of Democratic supporters following their favorite candidates. However motives differed somewhat: Pew noted that Republican-leaning voters were more likely to use social media in order to avoid the “filter” imposed by left-leaning traditional media, at 33%, compared to 20% for Democratic supporters.

Interestingly, people who follow candidates on social media are also more likely to engage in “real world” electioneering activities. For example, 11% volunteer their time to a campaign, versus just 4% of voters at large; 21% have made a contribution to a campaign, versus 11% overall; 13% have attended a rally, versus 6% overall; and 62% have encouraged their friends to support a particular candidate or issue, compared to 39% overall.

Turning to mobile, the proportion of registered voters who use their mobile devices to follow political news jumped from 13% in 2010 to 28% this year. Once again, the largest increases were seen among younger voters, with the proportion of voters ages 18-29 increasing from 28% to 43%, and the proportion of voters ages 30-49 jumping from 15% to 40%.

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