STUDY: How Facebook, Other Social Networks, Mobile Devices Affect the U.S. Voter

With Election Day in the U.S. set for Tuesday during this midterm election year, Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project examined how Facebook and other social networks, as well as mobile devices, factor into how voters consume political information and follow news about the elections.

PewVotersFollowingPoliticalFiguresChart650With Election Day in the U.S. set for Tuesday during this midterm election year, Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project examined how Facebook and other social networks, as well as mobile devices, factor into how voters consume political information and follow news about the elections.

Pew surveyed 2,003 U.S. adults in October, 1,494 of them registered voters, and it found that the number of Americans following political candidates on Facebook and other social networks was double the total during the last midterm elections, in 2010.

Pew found that 16 percent of registered voters now follow candidates for office, political parties or elected officials on social networks, up from 6 percent in 2010.

Party affiliation wasn’t really a factor, as Pew found that 18 percent of Republicans and 15 percent of Democrats follow political figures or parties.

The 30-through-49 age group is particularly active, according to Pew, as 21 percent of them follow political figures on social media, more than three times the 2010 level.

Pew also examined the likelihood of adults who follow political figures on social networks being engaged with other aspects of campaigns, finding that:

  • They are more likely to volunteer their time to candidates or campaigns (11 percent for social media followers, 4 percent for non-followers).
  • They are more likely to make campaign contributions (21 percent versus 11 percent).
  • They are more likely to attend campaign events (13 percent versus 6 percent).
  • They are more likely to encourage their friends to support candidates or issues (62 percent versus 39 percent).

Facebook and other social networks are becoming more important sources of political news, as Pew found that:

  • 41 percent of respondents who follow political figures said finding out about political news before other people did was a major reason, up from 22 percent in 2010. 50 percent of Republicans and respondents who leaned Republican cited this as a reason, versus 35 percent of Democrats and Democrat-leaners.
  • 35 percent cited feeling more personally connected to candidates or groups, down slightly from 36 percent in 2010.
  • 26 percent said the news they get via social networks was more reliable than that from traditional news organizations, up from 21 percent in 2010. 33 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaners cited this as a major reason, while just 20 percent of Democrats and Democrat-leaners did so.
  • 78 percent of respondents who follow political figures said content posted by those figures was mostly interesting and relevant (up from 67 percent in 2010), while 20 percent said the content was mostly uninteresting and not relevant to them (down from 32 percent during the last midterm elections).

PewReasonsForFollowingPoliticalFiguresChart

And Pew found, when it came to mobile devices:

  • 28 percent of registered voters have used their mobile phones to track political news or campaign coverage, up from 13 percent in 2010.
  • 40 percent of voters aged 30 through 49 have used their cell phones for these purposes, up from 15 percent during the last midterm elections.
  • 25 percent of Republicans and 29 percent of Democrats use their mobile phones to track political news or campaign coverage.

Readers: Did any of the findings by Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project surprise you?