October 19, 2012

Social Media and Political Engagement

Overview

The use of social media is becoming a feature of political and civic engagement for many Americans. Some 60% of American adults use either social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter and a new survey by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project finds that 66% of those social media users—or 39% of all American adults—have done at least one of eight civic or political activities with social media.

Overall, there are mixed partisan and ideological patterns among social media users when it comes to using social media like social networking sites and Twitter. The social media users who talk about politics on a regular basis are the most likely to use social media for civic or political purposes. And the social media users who have firmer party and ideological ties—liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans—are, at times, more likely than moderates in both parties to use social media for these purposes.

Some of these activities are more likely to be pursued by younger social media users compared with the social media users who are ages 50 or older. Younger users are more likely to post their own thoughts about issues, post links to political material, encourage others to take political action, belong to a political group on a social networking site, follow elected officials on social media, and like or promote political material others have posted.

Here are the key findings in a recent nationally representative survey:

  • 38% of those who use social networking sites (SNS) or Twitter use those social media to “like” or promote material related to politics or social issues that others have posted. Liberal Democrats who use social media are particularly likely to use the ‘like’ button—52% of them have done so and 42% of conservative Republicans have also done so.
  • 35% of social media users have used the tools to encourage people to vote. Democrats who are social media users are more likely to have used social media to encourage voting—42% have done that compared with 36% of Republican social-media users and 31% of independents.
  • 34% of social media users have used the tools to post their own thoughts or comments on political and social issues. Liberal Democrats who use social media (42%) and conservative Republicans (41%) are especially likely to use social media this way.
  • 33% of social media users have used the tools to repost content related to political or social issues that was originally posted by someone else.  Republican social media users are more likely to do this on social media—39% have used social media to repost content, compared with 34% of social media using Democrats and 31% of independents.
  • 31% of social media users have used the tools to encourage other people to take action on a political or social issue that is important to them. Some 36% of social-media-using Democrats have done this as have 34% of Republicans. This compares to 29% of independents who are social media users.
  • 28% of social media users have used the tools to post links to political stories or articles for others to read. The social media users who are liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans are the most likely to have used social media this way (39% and 34% respectively).
  • 21% of those who use SNS or Twitter belong to a group on a social networking site that is involved in political or social issues, or that is working to advance a cause. There are no major differences by ideology or partisanship when it comes to using social media this way.
  • 20% of social media users have used the tools to follow elected officials and candidates for office.  Some 32% of the conservative Republicans who use social media follow officials on social media and 27% of liberal Democrats who use social media do so.