Politics Fact Sheet

Highlights of the Pew Internet Project’s research related to politics.

(Note: This page will be updated whenever new data is available.)

Political and Civic Engagement on Social Networking Sites

66% of social media users (39% of American adults) have engaged in one of eight civic or political activities with social media:

  • 38% of those who use social networking sites (SNS) or Twitter “like” or promote material related to politics or social issues that others have posted
  • 35% have used social networking sites to encourage people to vote
  • 34% have used the tools to post their own thoughts or comments on political and social issues
  • 33% have used the tools to repost content related to political or social issues that was originally posted by someone else
  • 31% have used the tools to encourage other people to take action on a political or social issue
  • 28% have used the tools to post links to political stories or articles for others to read
  • 21% belong to a group on a social networking site that is involved in political or social issues
  • 20% have used the tools to follow elected officials and candidates for office

Social media users with 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.

Who uses SNS by party ID

See: “Social Media and Political Engagement” http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2012/Political-engagement.aspx

Impact on Views & Involvement on SNS

For a certain segment of the public, social networking shows an impact on people’s political views and involvement:

  • 25% of 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 or reading posts about it on SNS
  • 9% of users say they have become less involved in a political issue after encountering it on SNS

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.  Some 33% of SNS-using Democrats say so, compared with 24% of both Republicans and Independents.  The same is true of 39% of SNS-using liberals compared with 24% of conservatives and 21% of moderates.

For those who are already politically minded, social networking enhances their interest.  A third of respondents (33%) report discussing politics with friends and family “very often”; they are more likely to use SNS for political purposes.

See: “Politics on Social Networking Sites” http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2012/Politics-on-SNS/Summary-of-Findings.aspx.

Disagreement on SNS

Birds of a feather don’t always flock together on social networking sites:

  • Among SNS users whose friends post political content, 25% always or mostly agree with their friends’ postings.  The large majority (73%) “only sometimes” or “never” agree.
  • Some 38% of SNS users have discovered through a friend’s posts that his/her political beliefs were different than the user thought they were.

When they do disagree with things their friends have posted, most SNS users (66%) say they typically ignore these posts.  However, some 18% of social networking site users have blocked, unfriended, or hidden someone for political reasons.

See: “Social Networking Sites and Politics” http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2012/Social-networking-and-politics.aspx

Election 2012 on SNS

In the 2012 election, 30% of registered voters were encouraged to vote for either Mitt Romney or Barack Obama by family and friends via posts on social media such as Facebook and Twitter.   20% have encouraged others to vote by posting on such sites.  And once voters made a decision, 22% let others know how they voted through social networking sites.

See: http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2012/Social-Vote-2012.aspx

Mobile

Some 27% of registered voters who own a cell phone used it in the 2012 election season to keep up with election news or political issues in general.  Some 19% of registered voters who use text messaging have sent texts related to the campaign and 5% have signed up to receive texts from a candidate or other group.

Among registered voters who own a smartphone:

  • 45% have used their smartphone to read other  people’s comments on a social networking site about a candidate or the campaign in general
  • 35% have used their smartphone during this election campaign to look up whether something they just heard about a candidate or the campaign in general was true
  • 18% have used their smartphone to post their own comments on a social networking site about a candidate or the campaign

Cell phone apps are playing a relatively minor role in connecting voters to candidates, parties, or interest groups.  While 45% of cell-owning registered voters use apps, only 8% of these app users have used apps from a candidate, political party, or interest group to get information or updates about the campaign.

See: “The State of the 2012 Election – Mobile Politics” http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2012/Election-2012-Mobile.aspx

Donations

During the 2012 election cycle, 13% of all adults made a contribution to one of the presidential candidates.  Among these:

  • 67% donated in person, over the telephone, or through the mail
  • 50% donated online or  via email
  • 10% donated by sending a text message from their cell phone or using a cell phone app

While Democrats and Republicans are equally likely to make a presidential campaign contribution, Republicans are much more likely to contribute through offline channels, while Democratic donors are much more likely to make a contribution online or directly from their cell phone.

See: “Presidential Campaign Donations in the Digital Age” http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2012/Election-2012-Donations/Key-Findings.aspx

Online Video

Some 66% of registered voters who use the internet—55% of all registered voters—have gone online during the 2012 election season to watch videos related to the election campaign or political issues.  Specifically:

  • 48% of internet-using registered voters watch video news reports online about the elections or politics
  • 40% watch previously recorded videos online of candidate speeches, press conferences, or debates
  • 39% watch informational videos online that explain a political issue
  • 37% watch humorous or parody videos online dealing with political issues
  • 36% watch political advertisements online
  • 28% watch live videos online of candidate speeches, press conferences, or debates

The process of discovering political videos online is highly social. Some 62% of internet-using registered voters (52% of all registered voters) had others recommend online videos about the election or politics to them.  On the flip side, 23% of internet-using registered voters (19% of all registered voters) have themselves encouraged others to watch online videos related to political issues.  Just a sparse 1% have created their own video.

See: “Online Political Videos and Campaign 2012” http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2012/Election-2012-Video/Key-Findings.aspx

Prior Election Data

2010
In the 2010 midterm elections, 73% of adult internet users (representing 54% of all US adults) went online to get news or information about the 2010 midterm elections or to get involved in a campaign. On social media, 22% of adult internet users engaged with a political campaign. Activities included finding out how friends and family voted, receiving information from candidates or campaigns, posting political content, “friending” or “following” a candidate or political group, starting or joining a political group, and following election results as they happened.  Republican enthusiasm for social media matched that of Democrats, a change from the 2008 campaign.  For more information on the role of the internet in the 2010 elections, read our report, “The Internet and Campaign 2010” http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2011/The-Internet-and-Campaign-2010.aspx.  To find out more about social media and the 2010 elections, please read  “22% of Online Americans Used Social Networking or Twitter for Politics in 2010 Campaign” http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2011/Politics-and-social-media.aspx

2008
Going back to the 2008 election, 74% of internet users (55% of Americans) went online to get involved in the political process or to get news and information about the election.  This was the first time the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that more than half of the voting-age population used the internet for these purposes during an election year.  Several online activities rose to prominence:

  • Nearly one in five internet users (18%)  posted their thoughts, comments or questions about the campaign on an online forum such as a blog or social networking site
  • Fully 45% of internet users went online to watch a video related to the campaign
  • One third of internet users forwarded political content to others

For more information on the internet and the 2008 campaign, read our report “The Internet’s Role in Campaign 2008” http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2009/6–The-Internets-Role-in-Campaign-2008.aspx

For more information on the internet and previous elections, please read our reports: