September 4, 2012

Politics on Social Networking Sites

Political material on social networking sites plays a modest role in influencing most users’ views and political activities

Washington, D.C. (September 4, 2012) – A portion of social networking site users say the sites are important for some of their political activities and the way they decide how to engage with campaigns and issues. At the same time, most users of the sites say they do not use the sites for political purposes or debates.

A nationallyrepresentative phone survey by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project finds that:

  • 36% of social networking site (SNS) users say the sites are “very important” or “somewhat important” to them in keeping up with political news.
  • 26% of SNS users say the sites are “very important” or “somewhat important” to them in recruiting people to get involved in political issues that matter to them.
  • 25% of SNS users say the sites are “very important” or “somewhat important” to them for debating or discussing political issues with others.
  • 25% of SNS users say the sites are “very important” or “somewhat important” to them in finding other people who share their views about important political issues.

In each activity, Democrats who use social networking sites are more likely than Republicans or independents to say the sites are important.

At the same time, some – but not most – social networking site users say their use of the sites affects their views and political involvement:

  • 25% of social networking site (SNS) users say they have become more active in a political issue after discussing it or reading posts about it on the sites.
  • 16% of SNS users say they have changed their views about a political issue after discussing it or reading posts about it on the sites.
  • 9% of SNS users say they have become less involved in a political issue after discussing it or reading posts about it on the sites.

Democrats and liberals who use social networking sites are more likely than others to say their activities on the sites have led them to become more active: 33% of SNS-using Democrats say this, compared with 24% of both SNS-using Republicans and SNS-using independents. Some 39% of SNS-using liberals say their use of the sites has gotten them more involved in an issue, compared with 24% of SNS-using conservatives and 21% of SNS-using moderates.

“Those who are really active in discussing and participating in politics use social networking sites pretty eagerly and report that their discussions and debates on the sites affect them,” said Lee Rainie, Director of the Pew Internet Project and co-author of a report on the survey. “However, for most of those who use the sites, political material is just a small portion of what they post and what they read. And the impact of their use of the sites is modest, at best.”

The survey found that the vast majority of SNS users (84%) say they have posted little or nothing related to politics in their recent status updates, comments, and links. Only 6% of these users say that most or all of what they posted recently on social networking sites is related to politics, issues, or the 2012 campaign. Another 10% say some of what they have recently posted has been about politics.

A majority of SNS users (59%) say their friends on the sites have posted little or nothing about politics. Only 9% of what their SNS friends share and post is mostly or entirely about politics. In the case of friends’ posts, though, some 30% of SNS users say some of the material from their friends is about politics.

These findings come from a survey conducted from January 20-February 19, 2012 among 2,253 adults ages 18 and older, including 901 cell phone interviews. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish. The margin of error for the full sample is plus or minus 2.3 percentage points. And the margin of error of the sample dealing with social network site users (n=1,407) is plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.

The full report will be available at http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2012/Politics-on-SNS.aspx

Media contact: Lee Rainie, Director, Pew Internet Project

lrainie@pewinternet.org

O – 202-419-4510

M – 202-251-8476