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Pew Survey Finds Increased Social Media and Mobile Political Engagement For 2014 Midterms

BY Miranda Neubauer | Monday, November 3 2014

More and more American voters are using social media and their cell phones to connect with candidates and follow political news, according to a new study from the Pew Research Center.

Compared to the 2010 midterms, more than twice as many registered voters -- an increase from six to 16 percent -- are now following political candidates, parties or elected officials on social media, according to the survey. While 21 percent of voters between the ages of 18 and 29 used social media to engage politically, the study notes a significant increase among voters aged 30 to 49 and 50 to 64, with the number going from six to 21 percent and five to 15 percent, respectively.

More voters following political figures on social media, large increases among 30-49 and 50-64 year olds

The survey, conducted among just over 2,000 adults between October 15 and 20, found no major difference between Republicans and Democrats in terms of likelihood of following politicians on social media. However, half of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents follow politicians on social media to get news "quickly" and a third use it to receive more reliable information than from the traditional news media. Meanwhile, among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, 35 and 20 percent shared those motivations.

Overall, 41 percent of those interviewed said that a major reason they followed politicians on social media was to get news before other people, a number up from 22 percent in 2010. Similar to 2010, 35 percent said they did so to feel more personally connected to candidates and 26 percent indicated they felt social media content was more reliable than traditional media.

Reasons for following political figures on social media

The number of voters who say the political social media content is "mostly interesting and relevant" has gone up significantly as well: to 78 percent from 67 percent in 2010.

Social media followers were more likely to have volunteered for a campaign at 11 percent versus four percent, to have made a campaign contribution at 21 percent versus 11 percent and to have encouraged their friends to vote at 62 percent versus 39 percent. The survey also found that they were more likely to say they followed public affairs closely and that "they have given quite a lot of thought to this year’s elections."

The percentage of voters who say they receive political news on their phones has also more than doubled, now at 28 percent, up from 13 percent in 2010.

While the percentage is highest among voters aged 18 to 29 at 43 percent, the survey again noted a significant increase among 30 to 49 year olds compared to 2010, with the rate going to 40 percent from 15 percent.

More voters are using their cell phones to keep up with election news, large increase among 30-49 year olds

The likelihood of following political news on the cell phone was similar among Republicans and Democrats at 25 and 29 percent respectively.

The survey found that those voters following political news on their cell phones were more likely to have encouraged friends to vote, at 58 percent versus 37 percent among those who do not follow political news on Facebook, and more likely to have attended a campaign event, at 11 percent versus six percent. There was, however, no difference in their likelihood of making campaign contributions or volunteering for a campaign.

The New York Times recently highlighted the National Republican Congressional Committee's efforts to reach and track voters on their cell phones and across devices, and in a separate article explored the challenges campaigns face in actually using the broad range of data, to which they now have access, in order to reach voters with targeted messages.

"On Facebook, the lead-in might be something fun and appealing, like ‘Let’s be more than friends, sign up and vote.’ On Twitter, it might be something like, ‘Retweet this but also go vote,' " Mark Skidmore, partner and chief strategist at Bully Pulpit Interactive, told the Times. "And if it’s on an article it might be, 'Stop reading this and go vote.' "