Younger Voters & Obama Supporters Lead US Online Political Charge

July 31, 2008

This article is included in these additional categories:

Analytics, Automated & MarTech | Social Media | Youth & Gen X

Nearly half of all Americans (46%) have used the internet, email, or cell-phone text messaging to get news about the presidential campaign, share their views, or mobilize others, according to a new survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

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Younger voters and Democrats make more use of online media to consume and share political information, the study also found.

Among the findings from Pew’s telephone survey of internet users and non-users:

  • 40% of all Americans have gotten news and information about this year’s campaign from the internet.
  • 19% of Americans go online once a week or more to do something related to the campaign, and 6% go online daily to engage politically.
  • 23% say once a week or more they receive emails that urge them to support a candidate or discuss the campaign.
  • 10% use email once a week or more to contribute to the political debate.
  • 4% have exchanged political views via text messaging.

The proportion of Americans going online on a typical day at the tail end of the primary season to get political news or information more than doubled compared with a comparable point in the 2004 race – from 8% of all adults in spring 2004 to 17% in spring 2008.

Social Media Takes Spotlight

Three online activities have become especially prominent as the presidential primary campaigns have progressed: Online videos, social networking and online contributions.

Specifically:

  • 35% of Americans say they have watched online political videos – nearly triple the level of the 2004 race.
  • 10% say they have used social-networking sites such as Facebook or MySpace to gather information or become involved. Two-thirds of internet users under the age of 30 have a social-networking profile, and half of these use social networking sites to get or share information about politics or the campaigns.
  • 6% of Americans have made political contributions online, compared with 2% who did during the entire 2004 campaign.

A significant number of voters are also using the internet to gain access to campaign events and primary documents. Some 39% of online Americans have used the internet to access “unfiltered” campaign materials, which include video of candidate debates, speeches and announcements, and position papers and speech transcripts.

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Young Voters, Democrats, Obama Supporters Lead Online

In increasing numbers, younger voters under age 30 are helping to shape the online political debate. Democrats and Obama supporters have taken the lead in their use of online tools for political engagement.

  • 74% of wired Obama supporters have gotten political news and information online, compared with 57% of online Clinton supporters.
  • Obama supporters outpace both Clinton and McCain supporters in their use of online video, social-networking sites and other online campaign activities.

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  • In a head-to-head matchup with internet users who support Republican McCain, Obama’s backers are more likely to get political news and information online (65% vs. 56%).

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Online Activism on the Rise

Online activism using social media also has grown substantially since the 2006 midterm elections:

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  • 11% of Americans have forwarded or posted someone else’s commentary about the race.
  • 5% have posted their own commentary or analysis.
  • 6% have gone online to donate money to a candidate or campaign.
  • 12% of online 18-29 year olds have posted their own political commentary or writing to an online newsgroup, website or blog.

Despite the growth in the number of people who are politically engaged online, internet users express some ambivalence about the role of the internet in the campaign.

On the one hand, 28% of wired Americans say the internet makes them feel more personally connected to the campaign and 22% say that they would not be as involved in the campaign if not for the internet; on the other hand, even larger numbers say the internet magnifies the most extreme viewpoints and is a source of misinformation for many voters.

About the survey: This report is based on the findings of a daily tracking survey on Americans’ use of the internet. The results are based on data from random-digit-dialing telephone interviews conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International April 8 to May 11, 2008, among a sample of 2,251 adults 18 and older, 1,553 of whom were internet users.

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