21% of Online Adults Connect to November 2010 Elections Via Social Networking Sites

Social media tools have ‘become a regular part’ of the political landscape, according to a recent report by Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project.

In the months leading up to the November 2010 elections, 21% of online adults used social networking sites like Facebook or MySpace to connect to a campaign or the election itself, and 2% used Twitter. This number was fairly evenly spread across party lines, indicating that (after lagging behind in the 2008 race) Republicans and Tea Party supporters have now caught up with Democrats in embracing social media.

MediaPost compiled some highlights from the study:

  • Among social network users, 40% of Republican voters and 38% of Democratic voters used these sites (Twitter, Facebook, MySpace) to become politically involved
  • Tea Party supporters were especially active; 22% friended a political candidate or group on a social site
  • Overall (among internet users), 58% of Democrats use online social networks compared to 54% of Republicans
  • The main reason people follow political groups on social networks or Twitter is because it makes them feel more personally connected to the candidates or groups they follow; more than a third (36%) cited this as the major factor
  • 11% of online users discovered who their friends voted for in November through a social site
  • 9% got candidate or campaign information on Twitter or a social site
  • 8% of online users posted political content
  • 7% started or joined a political group on a social property

Of those who follow politicians or other political groups via social media:

  • Two-thirds (67%) say that the information posted is interesting and relevant
  • A similar number say they pay attention to most (26%) or some (40%) of the material posted by the politicians or groups they follow.

The Pew study draws on data from a nationwide telephone survey of 2,257 American adults conducted between November 3 and November 24, 2010.

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  • What will really matter, ultimately, is if those who are self-selecting to use social media for political messaging actually influence those who are simply consumers of information or are otherwise engaged in non-political interactions on social media sites. In other words, does the social media work of the politically-involved actually translate into people going to the polls and, further, to voting for the preferred candidate(s) of those with whom they’re interacting.

    I would guess the equilibrating party identification points to the widespread adoption of social media among the populace. Watch for the demographics to shift back to younger/more liberal in the next cycle as political media buyers leverage more cutting edge technology. It will sound absolutely archaic looking back, but currently texting is still ripe for grabbing the attention of a younger cohort. The over 40s will catch up soon, though.

    • You’re absolutely right that the key is whether engagement translates into influence. That said, it’s clear that neither party can afford to ignore social media as a channel for connecting with potential voters.

      It will also be interesting to see if social media changes political systems and cultures in the US as voters become more agile at organizing themselves and discussing issues amongst themselves, as opposed to relying on traditional party-driven talking points, or on the analysis of mainstream pundits…