December 30, 2008

Post-Election Voter Engagement

Key findings of the November 2008 post-election survey

Voters expect that the level of public engagement they experienced with Barack Obama during the campaign, much of it occurring online, will continue into the early period of his new administration. A majority of Obama voters expect to carry on efforts to support his policies and try to persuade others to back his initiatives in the coming year; a substantial number expect to hear directly from Obama and his team; and a notable cohort say they have followed the transition online.

These are the key findings of a new survey about public interest in the presidential transition process and voters’ intentions to carry on the national conversation about the incoming administration:

  • 62% of Obama voters expect that they will ask others to support the policies of the new administration over the next year. Among Obama voters who were engaged online during the campaign, 25% expect to support the administration’s agenda by reaching out to others online.
  • 46% of Obama voters and 33% of McCain voters expect to hear directly from their candidate or party leaders over the next year. Fully 51% of online Obama supporters expect some kind of ongoing communication from the new administration—34% of Obama-supporting email users expect email communication, 37% of social network site users expect SNS updates, and 11% of phone texters expect to receive text messages from the new administration.
  • 27% of wired Obama voters have gone online to learn about or get involved with the presidential transition process.1 Nine percent of online McCain voters have visited websites hoping to rebuild the GOP or elect conservative candidates in the future.

Background on the survey

This year’s presidential campaign witnessed unprecedented levels of online engagement in the political process as millions of ordinary citizens used the internet to keep informed about politics, donate money, share their views, join communities built around shared interests or objectives and mobilize others in support of their candidate. In the final days of the campaign, our colleagues at the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press found that 59% of voters had taken part in some sort of campaign activity online: 44% had sent or received campaign-related emails, 39% had watched online political videos and 37% had visited politically-oriented websites or blogs.

In light of this level of online involvement during the election itself, more questions arise about the ability of the Obama team to translate its successful internet political operations into new levels of engagement and activism when Obama assumes the presidency: Will voters who were mobilized during the campaign through email, text messaging and social media such as Facebook remain politically engaged as the immediacy of the campaign turns to more mundane matters of governance? Do those who went online to support the Obama/Biden ticket and mobilize their friends during the election itself expect to remain engaged with the new administration during the transition process and beyond? Similarly, will Republican voters look to the internet as a key component of mobilizing conservative voters and electing GOP candidates in the future?

The Pew Internet Project examined those questions in a survey fielded from November 20 to December 4. Some 2,254 adults were surveyed and the margin of error in the overall sample is plus or minus two percentage points. There were 1,591 internet users in the sample and the margin of error for analysis relating to them is 3 percentage points.