May 18, 2010

Explaining racial differences in attitudes towards government use of social media

Last week a reporter from the New York Times read our recent Government Online report and emailed me with a question—how did I explain the disparity between African-Americans’ and Hispanics’ views of the importance of government social media versus whites? Did I think it had anything to do with minorities being more trusting of the government during the Obama era? Since my reply got pared down due to space constraints, I’m reproducing my response to his query in full below:

There has been an overall increase in trust in government among Democrats in general recently (and by extension, among heavily Democratic segments of the population such as minority groups) although even among Democrats there is still a fair amount of general mistrust towards Washington at the moment.

However, that still leaves the question of why minority Americans (as well as groups such as young adults) are receptive to government social media use in a way that is not as apparent when it comes to other forms of online outreach.

What we can see clearly from our data, is that engagement with government using social media by African-Americans and Latinos is a continuation of a trend we first witnessed during the 2008 political campaign. During the last election season groups (such as young and/or minority voters) that were not as active in other areas of civic life, turned in relatively large numbers to the social web to express themselves and to engage with the political process. Clearly that increased level of involvement has continued as the campaign has evolved into the governing phase.

General technology habits also play a big role in this phenomenon. As a group, Latinos and (especially) African-Americans are highly active on the mobile web and are generally more likely than whites to use tools such as social networking sites or status update services, making these services a natural fit for all sorts of interactions, government-related or otherwise.

Social network and status update usage by whites, african americans and latinos