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New Pew Study Finds 46% of Americans Use Internet for Campaign News, Information and Organization

Lee Raine of the Pew Internet & American Life Project shared with us the results of a fascinating poll on the Internet and the 2008 Presidential election that he and Aaron Smith just completed. According to the Pew report:

In total, 46% of all adults are using the internet, email, or phone text messaging for political purposes in this election. That is the percentage of those who are doing at least one of the three major activities we probed—getting news and information about the campaign, using email to discuss campaign-related matters, or using phone texting for the same purpose.

I’m especially glad that this poll asked questions about mobilization and creation of online political content instead of just use of the Internet to read campaign news. According to the report:

Online activism using social media has also grown substantially since the first time we probed this issue during the 2006 midterm elections. Among the findings in our survey:

–11% of Americans have contributed to the political conversation by forwarding or posting someone else’s commentary about the race.
–5% have posted their own original commentary or analysis.
–6% have gone online to donate money to a candidate or campaign.
–Young voters are helping to define the online political debate; 12% of online 18-29 year olds have posted their own political commentary or writing to an online newsgroup, website or blog.

The survey also tracks the use of new tools like social networking, video-sharing sites and text messaging for political purposes. As we’ve seen around the world, social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace are increasingly being used to mobilize networks around causes. The poll found that 66% of Internet users under 30 have a social networking site profile, and that nearly half of them use that platform to get or share information about the candidates or campaigns.

Not surprisingly, 35% of respondents (nearly triple the amount in 2004) have watched campaign videos on sites like YouTube, no doubt including the Obama video that went viral earlier this year, which we’ve discussed at Berkman on a couple of occasions. Ethan Zuckerman has a great post about online campaign videos, particularly less polished, user-generated videos. To me, these videos stand out as some of the best examples to date of semiotic democracy, or how individuals take cultural and political images from mass media, mash them up, and create their own culture and political meaning out of them. This phenomenon may be the most interesting but least talked about aspects of the narrative surrounding the Internet and this year’s campaign, and is emblematic of politics in the Web 2.0 era.

Further, nearly one in ten text message users regularly send or receive text messages about the campaign or politics. Like social networking, video sharing and other new tools, I expect that text messaging will increasingly be used in politics as those tools become more ubiquitous and as younger users mature into voting age. The poll argues that these younger voters are giving Democrats the edge over Republicans online. According to the report:

Young voters in our survey tend to gravitate toward the Democratic Party and the Obama campaign at greater rates than their elders, and their comfort engaging with the political world online is clearly in evidence in our survey. Online Democrats outpace Republicans in their consumption of online video (51% vs. 42%). Furthermore, Democrats are significantly ahead among social networking site profile creators: 36% of online Democrats have such profiles, compared with 21% of Republicans and 28% of independents.

Finally, I was a bit surprised (although I guess I shouldn’t be) that 60% of Internet users believe that “The internet is full of misinformation and propaganda that too many voters believe is accurate.” The majority must have read Cass Sunstein. However, 28% still say that the Internet allows them to be more personally connected to candidates and almost a quarter (22%) say they would not be as involved in the campaign if not for the Internet. It was also surprising that only 6% of Americans have contributed online, since online fundraising seems to be a much larger part of the news story in this campaign.

Check out the full survey report. We will wait anxiously for results of the next round of surveys from the Internet and American Life Project, and hope they can dig more deeply into questions about the Internet’s role in offline political mobilization.

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One Response to “New Pew Study Finds 46% of Americans Use Internet for Campaign News, Information and Organization”

  1. » Indian Nationalist Models Campaign After US I&D Blog Says:

    […] is increasingly becoming the backbone of political campaigning. Not only is the Internet the first stop for information about the candidates and their policy preferences, but also it is a forum where people can express […]