January 17, 2007

The internet and campaign 2006

The number of Americans who cited the internet as their primary source of campaign news in 2006 doubled since the last mid-term election Twice as many Americans used the internet as their primary source of news about the 2006 campaign compared with the most recent mid-term election in 2002. Some 15% of all American adults say the internet was the place where they got most of their campaign news during the election, up from 7% in the mid-term election of 2002. A post-election survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project and the Pew Research Center for The People & The Press shows that the 2006 race also produced a notable class of online political activists. Some 23% of those who used the internet for political purposes – the people we call campaign internet users – actually created or forwarded online original political commentary or politically-related videos. “The vanguard of YouTubers and bloggers has become influential in politics,” said Pew Internet Project Director Lee Rainie, one of the authors of the Project’s report on its national survey. “Those who wish to engage voters around a particular issue or candidate have many more tools at their disposal today than they did just four years ago.” Indeed, 20% of campaign internet users say they got political news and information from blogs, while 24% say they visited issue-oriented websites. The growing importance of the internet in the nation’s political life is tied at least in part to the spread of broadband connections in American homes. Some 17% of Americans had broadband connections at home at the time of the 2002 midterm campaign and it rose to 45% by November 2006. Younger broadband users – those under age 36 – were more likely to cite the internet than newspapers as their main source of political news. “Young broadband users seem to be replacing time spent with newspapers with time spent with online news outlets, while older broadband users go online for political information as a supplement to other media like newspapers and television news,” said Pew Internet’s John Horrigan, the Associate Director for Research and co-author of the report. “Younger users especially appreciate the extra information and the variety of perspectives they get online.” The 2006 election survey shows that convenience is the top reason people use the internet to get political news information and that the majority of campaign internet users go to the websites of mainstream news organizations. At the same time, though, a majority of internet users go to non-traditional sites such as blogs, humor and satire sites like The Daily Show, international sites, alternative sites, candidate and government sites. Republican and Democratic voters were equally likely to say that the internet was their main source of election news. In contrast, there were notable differences between Republican and Democratic voters in their preferences for other news sources. For instance, Democratic voters were more likely than Republicans to cite newspapers and certain broadcast and cable news operations such as CBS, ABC and CNN as their main sources of news, while Republicans were more likely to favor the Fox cable TV News and radio. These findings come from a survey of 2,562 adults, aged 18 and older. Some 200 of the completed interviews were conducted on cell phones among American adults who only have cell phones and do not have landline phone connections. Some 1,578 of those interviewed were internet users. The margin of error on the full sample is +/- 2%. For results based Internet users, the margin of sampling error is +/- 3%. The Pew Internet Project is a non-partisan, non-profit research organization that is an initiative of the Pew Research Center established to explore the social impact of the internet. The Project takes no positions on policy issues.