The latest study of social media and politics from the Pew Research Center found that 53 percent of voters said they used social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook to follow politics because they felt the information was more reliable than what they received through traditional news media.
58 percent of respondents identifying themselves as Democratic voters said they use social media, compared with 54 percent of Republicans. Compare that to 2008, when 44 percent of Democrats identified themselves as social networkers compared to 29 percent of Republicans.
In short, researchers found that while Democrats made the most use of social media in the 2008 election, Republicans virtually erased the gap in 2010.
Among overall social network users, 40 percent of Republican voters and 38 percent of Democratic voters used those sites to become involved politically. Among those using social media to specifically follow politics, 45 percent said they voted Republican versus 41 percent for Democrats.
In all, Pew found 21 percent of adult Internet users said they used social networking sites, from Facebook to Twitter and MySpace, to find out who their friends were voting for, get candidate information, post comments, ‘friend’ candidates and campaigns, and take part in group causes.
Much of the Republican growth, researchers concluded, can be attributed to the normal trajectory of technological advancements. In 2008, sites like Facebook and Twitter were new and the Obama campaign adopted them early. Now everybody is on a social network, and adapt at the latest technologies.
“Everybody learned from the Obama campaign in 2008 that social media can be an effective tool to contact and galvanize voters,” said Lee Rainie, the study’s lead researcher and director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project.
In 2008, Obama had a 15-point advantage over his opponent, Republican John McCain, with adults who use social media.
Younger Internet users, Pew found, remain more likely to use social media for political activities, but people over age 50 are the fastest-growing demographic group using social media, according to Pew, another harbinger for the Republican gains.
In 2010, 33 percent of social media users over the age of 50 said they used social networking sites for politics, compared to 42 percent of those under the age of 30.
In this election, supporters of the Tea Party movement also proved especially active on social media sites, with 23 percent saying they used the sites to get candidate or campaign information, 19 percent saying they posted political content on social media sites and 22 percent saying they used social media to “friend” a candidate or cause.
Overall, the study found three out of four adults are Internet users, and of them, 61 percent, use social networking sites such as Facebook or MySpace, while just 8 percent use Twitter.
The Pew study was conducted from November 3 through November 24, 2010 among 2,257 voting aged adults.