Despite the great success Democrats had in using the internet this election cycle, Republicans as a whole (68%) are actually more likely to be online political users than Democrats (53%) or Independents (56%). This is largely a function of partisan differences among internet users as a whole: 84% of Republicans go online compared with 71% of Democrats. Republicans are more likely to be socio-economically upscale, which is also the case with internet users. And groups with relatively low rates of internet usage such as African-Americans and low-income voters tend to vote disproportionately Democratic. Among internet users, 79% of Republicans and 73% of Democrats are online political users, a much smaller difference than is present in the population as a whole (although still statistically significant).
Moreover, because there are currently more Democrats than Republicans in the overall population, Democratic voters actually make up a slightly larger percentage of the online political user population—Democrats comprise 36% of the overall population and 34% of online political users, while Republicans comprise 25% of the population and 30% of online political users.
These partisan differences are less pronounced when comparing McCain voters with Obama voters, rather than Republicans with Democrats. Among all voters, 68% of McCain supporters and 61% of Obama supporters are online political users. However, online political engagement among wired supporters of each candidate is nearly identical—80% of online Obama voters and 81% of online McCain supporters are online political users. This divergence between party analysis and voting analysis appears to arise at least partially from the fact that the independent voters who go online were more likely to vote for Obama/Biden ticket in the fall, while those who do not go online were relatively more likely to vote for the McCain/Palin ticket.
Even though Republican voters are generally more likely than Democratic voters to be online political users, Democrats who get involved online tend to do so more intensely than their Republican counterparts. Just as a reminder, our online political user definition contains three separate components:
- Going online for political news and information
- Communicating with others about politics on the internet
- Using specific tools such as email, text messaging, IM or Twitter to interact with other voters or the campaigns themselves
Within the cohort of online political users, Democrats and Obama voters tend to engage in a wider range of activities than Republicans or McCain voters. Among online political users fully 50% of Democrats do all three of the above activities compared with 40% of Republicans. Similarly, 48% of Obama voters who get engaged politically online do all three kinds of online political activities, compared with 41% of McCain supporters.
This greater intensity among Obama-supporting online political users arises from partisan differences in the use of email and text messaging. Online Obama voters and wired McCain supporters are equally likely to go online for political news and information (66% of Obama voters and 65% of McCain voters did this) and to communicate with others about politics or the election online (45% vs. 44%). However, Obama voters are significantly more likely to use text messaging and email for political purposes:
- 48% of Obama voters who use email received email from a campaign or political party this election season, compared with 38% of email-using McCain voters.
- Among those who use cell phone text messaging, 17% of Obama supporters and 7% of McCain supporters got text messages directly from a candidate or party.
- Also among text messaging users, 49% of Obama voters shared text messages related to the campaign with others; 29% of McCain voters did so.
Supporters of the two campaigns were equally likely to communicate about politics using instant messaging. The small number of Twitter users in our sample showed a tilt towards Obama, but the number of respondents was too small to make meaningful partisan comparisons on this topic.
With respect to their sources for political news, Democrats are somewhat more likely to rely on television news, while Republicans are somewhat more likely to rely on the internet and radio. Partisans of all stripes tend to watch similar television news content, with two major exceptions. CNN is particularly popular with Democrats and independents (38% of Democrats, 31% of independents and 16% of Republicans cite CNN as a major source of television news), while Fox News Channel is most popular with Republicans (43% of Republicans, 27% of independents and 13% of Democrats watch Fox News).