Social Media Really Does Influence Political Opinions... Sometimes

After an election season widely condemned as tawdry, disgraceful, and generally unworthy of the great country which gave the world “Jersey Shore,” it’s easy to be cynical about American politics and especially social media, which has abetted some of the nastiest aspects of it. But underneath all the bilious invective, social media really does work to change political opinions, according to a new analysis by Pew Research Center.

In its survey of American adult social media users, Pew found that 20% said they’ve changed their opinion about a social or political issue because of content on social media; further, 17% said they changed their opinion regarding a political candidate because of social media.

Liberal Democrats were more likely to say that they changed their opinions regarding an issue or candidate because of social media, with 25% claiming the former and 20% claiming the latter. By contrast, 13% of conservative Republicans said they changed their views about an issue because of social media, and 11% changed their opinion about a candidate.



Asked which specific issues and candidates they’d changed their minds about due to social media, 21% of respondents cited Hillary Clinton and 18% cited Donald Trump, while 13% pointed to racial issues and police brutality. Further down the list, 8% said they changed their opinion of Bernie Sanders, and 6% referred to gun control and gun rights.

Of course, just because people are changing their opinions doesn’t necessarily mean those opinions are favorable. In fact, among people who said they changed their minds about Clinton because of social media, 24% said their opinion became more negative, compared to just 7% who said it became more positive. Similarly, among respondents who changed their minds about Trump, 19% became more negative versus only 4% who became more positive.

These findings help lend a somewhat more positive perspective to the findings of a previous Pew study, which showed that over one-third of Americans are sick of political content on social media. Overall, 37% of respondents said they are “worn out” by political discourse on social media, and 59% said they find their political disagreements with other people on social media “stressful and frustrating.”

Indeed, 64% said political disagreements make them realize they have less in common with these contacts than they previously thought. To mitigate the stress, 83% of respondents avoid looking at posts from friends with whom they disagree on political issues, and 39% said they have blocked, unfriended someone, or changed their social media settings to reduce their exposure to this content.
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