The Pew Research Center recently conducted a national survey which revealed relevant data on how voters obtain political information and election news through the use of their mobile phones and social media accounts such as Facebook and Twitter.
Compared with the recently conducted midterm election, the number of Americans that made use of their mobile devices to update themselves with political news or campaign coverage has doubled. In the 2014 campaign, 28 percent of registered voters used their mobile devices in this manner; this percentage is an improvement over 2010’s 13 percent. Additionally, there has been a significant rise on the amount of Americans who show support to their candidates and other political figures by following their social media accounts. From 2010’s 6 percent, 16 percent of registered do this now.
It is possible that voters across all age groups will do the same compared to the past midterm elections. However, this growth has been more prominent among those between the ages of 30 and 49. About 40 percent of voters between 30 and 49 made use of their mobile phone to be updated with the election campaign this year (increasing from 15 percent in 2010). Meanwhile, 21 percent use social media to follow political figures on social media (increasing from 6 percent in 2010). It is important to note that the voters that belong to the said age group are now using the same practice at rates almost similar to those who fall between the 18 and 29 age group.
Despite these numbers, there’s no clear indication on which party engages on social media more frequently. In fact, both Democrats and Republicans take part in these practices equally. When asked on why they tend to show support to their favorite candidate on social media, respondents express that they wish to be among the first to get updates on political news. Republicans and Republican-leaning independents both agree that through social media, they are able to obtain political media that would have been “filtered” by mainstream television, radio, and news media. Through social media, voters from either party are able to create a semblance of a feeling more connected with the candidates they support.
Together with other forms of campaign engagement, digital politics is just one of the measures being used. Specifically speaking, the 16 percent of voters that use social media to follow political figures actively take part in different traditional campaign activities—such as money donation, volunteering, and even encouraging other people to show their support for the candidate and causes they prefer.
The Pew report takes basis from a national survey that was conducted between October 15-20 involving 2,003 adults. Among the number of correspondents, 1,494 were registered voters. The main discoveries of the survey were:
As smartphone sales continue to increase significantly, so does the number of Americans who use their device to get updates on political news. In this year alone, roughly 28 percent of registered voters used their smartphones to follow political or election news; a number that has doubled compared to the latest midterm election cycle. Based on the results of a survey conducted towards the conclusion of the 2010 election period, the number of registered voters that used their mobile phones as a way to keep track of the election coverage was just 13 percent.
During this campaign period, registered voters from both parties are most likely to use their smartphones to obtain election news; with reports of 29 percent of Democrats and 25 percent of Republicans equally using their mobile devices for such purpose. And while there is a significant rise of smartphone users between the ages of 30 and 40 who get political and election news through their smartphones over those during the 2010 midterms, voters across all age groups are expected to do the same. In the previous midterm campaign coverage, only 15 percent of registered voters between the ages 30-49 used their mobile devices to keep track of the election period. This year, that number has increased to about 40 percent of registered voters.
Compared with other Americans, these “mobile election news consumers” have a more active participation in certain election campaign methods but may also be considered the same as the other registered voters with regards to other campaign activities. With their mobile phones, they are expected to persuade their acquaintances to vote or show support to a certain candidate (58 percent of registered voters have done this compared to the 37 percent that do not use their smartphone to get campaign news) and have also attended a campaign related event (11 percent yes vs. 6 percent no). However, when it comes to making contributions or volunteering time to aid a candidate or his campaign, these mobile users show no difference than the other voters.
A significant number of Americans have accounts in social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. With 16 percent of registered voters who currently use websites such as these to follow certain political parties, elected officials, or candidates; this number signifies an increase of twice as much followers from the 2010 midterm election. Back then, only 6 percent used social media to follow political groups or candidates.
People that associate with either political party are equivalently likely to follow the social media accounts of politicians, with 18 percent of Republicans and 15 percent of Democrats belonging to this number. Similarly, there has been an increase among voters between the ages of 30 and 40 in the mobile political activity engagement. With about 21 percent of voters between 30 and 49 years old who now follow their candidates on social media, there has been an increase of up to three times compared from the last midterm elections.
The Americans that use social media to follow political figures tend to be participative on different practices used during the election campaign. Among others, these individuals are more likely than the voters who do not follow candidates on social media to volunteer time to help a candidate or campaign (11 percent vs 4 percent); to attend campaign events (13 percent vs 6 percent); encourage their friends to show support to a candidate or issue at the polls (62 percent vs 39 percent); and to make a contribution to the campaign (21 percent vs 11 percent). In addition, these voters are more likely to admit that they follow public affairs and government news regularly; and even to have spent some time assessing the elections this year.
As opposed to the last midterm election, the reasons that voters have given on why they follow politicians on social media has changed. When presented with possible reasons of this growing political behavior on social media:
As far as political party affiliations are concerned, Republican and independents than lean right have a tendency of putting a higher importance on knowing about news quickly as well as obtaining their views as a more reliable source of information compared to what traditional news organizations present. About 50 percent of these individuals that follow the social media account of political figures point out that a “major reason” behind this is because they want to find out about news much faster (as opposed with 35 percent of Democratic and Democratic-leaning independents), meanwhile the 33 percent say that a “major reason” for doing so is so they can obtain more reliable information over what traditional news organizations produce (compared with 20 percent of Democrats). There is an equal number of both Republicans and Democrats who say that a ‘major reason’ on why they follow political figures on social media is so they can feel more personally connected to the particular candidates and groups they support.
Apart from the changes on the reasons specified by respondents on why they follow political figures on social media, there has also been a minor revision on the manner people see the importance of political content. About 78 percent of Americans that currently follow politicians on social media say that the updates posted on these websites are mostly interesting and important. However, 20 percent say that these updates are not relevant or uninteresting to them. In the 2010 campaign, the same question was asked. 67 percent said that the content was both interesting and relevant, meanwhile 32 percent said that this was uninteresting and irrelevant.
The analysis obtained in this report is based on interviews conducted via telephone between October 15 and 20, 2014 among a national sample comprised of 2,003 adults, aged 18 years or older, residing in all 50 US states and the District of Colombia (1,201 respondents were interviewed over a cell phone, and 802 were interviewed over a landline telephone. 677 respondents had no landline telephone). Under the supervision of Princeton Survey Research Associates International, the survey was conducted by Princeton Data Source interviewers. Survey Sampling International provided the landline and cell phone random digit dial samples, where a combination of both samples were used. The interviews were conducted in both English and Spanish. For landline respondents, the youngest adult male or female who was at home was selected randomly for the sample. Cell phone sample interviews were conducted with the individual that answered the call, providing the person on the other line was an adult and at least 18 years of age.
The sample from both landline and cell phone respondents are weighted with the use of a method that pairs factors according to gender, age, race, education, nativity and Hispanic origin and region to parameters set from the 2012 Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. The population density was also paired with parameters from data of the Decennial Census. In addition, the sample was also weighted to pair current telephone status patterns (landline telephone online, cell phone only, or both landline telephone and cell phone), getting basis from the 2013 National Health Interview Survey estimates. The weighting procedure takes into consideration the fact that survey respondents with both landline telephone and cell phones have a higher probability of inclusion in the combined sample and therefore adjusts for household size among survey respondents with a landline telephone. Statistical tests of significance and sampling errors have been taken into account for the effect of weighting.
Now, more than ever before, social media via mobile devices has become an important medium for political machines to utilize. Even low-end smartphones now have the ability to provide high-quality and up-to-the minute news to any user who wants to keep tabs on election news and the social media views of their favorite (or least favorite) politicians. The social media machine that helped vault current incumbent Barack Obama to the presidency in 2008 and 2012 has gone mobile, and whichever party or politician who harnesses the ubiquity of social and mobile will give themselves an advantage.
Source: Pew Research Internet Project