During the 2010 midterm campaign, Americans who identify themselves as Republicans caught up to Democrats in their use of social networking like Facebook or Twitter for political purposes. That's in contrast to 2008 when Democrats dominated the use of social media, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted Nov. 3-24.
The use of social networking has mushroomed in politics just as it has in other aspects of American life. As it matures and grows as a medium, the population of users have become more diverse, and that holds true for the political arena as well.
The growing use by Americans of social media has hardly been lost on politicians. The website Fast Company
noted that, in preparing to get their spin out to the public on the State of the Union address, players ranging from the White House to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor were employing Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to reach the growing number of people who use those sites.
"In fact, the Republicans consider speaking directly to constituents so important that some members will go to the social nets before they talk to the likes of CNN and Fox," Fast Company said.
Three-quarters of adults use the Internet and, of these, 61 percent use social networking sites with 8 percent using Twitter. During the 2010 elections, Pew said that 21 percent of adult users engaged with the political campaign on social network sites and 2 percent did so on Twitter.
Among that number, 45 percent voted for Republican congressional candidates compared to 41 percent who voted for Democratic candidates.
Republicans active in social media also matched Democrats in their enthusiasm for using it to get politically involved. Forty percent of Republicans users turned to social media to to engage politically compared to 38 percent of Democrats.
While young adults between the ages of 18 and 29 still are the most likely to use social networking sites for politics, there was a jump in the percentage of those in the 30-to-49 and 50-plus age groups who made political use of social networking sites in 2010.
In 2008, 31 percent of young adults used social networking sites to get involved in politics compared to 16 percent of those in the 30-to-49 age group, and 8 percent of those 50 or older.
In 2010, the use of social networking sites for politics among young adults rose to 42 percent. But the percentage of those between 30 and 49 using the sites to get politically involved almost doubled, rising to 29 percent, and it quadrupled for those 50 or older, to 33 percent.
"What has changed is the demographic composition of the social networking site population," said Pew researcher Aaron Smith. "Online social networks are no longer dominated by young adults, who were gung-ho for Obama in 2008. The social networking population has grown both larger and older in the last two years, and as a result you have a lot more GOP-supporting folks who are using these sites to get involved just as their young counterparts are. That's the major difference between the last two election cycles."
As far as how those using social networking sites (not including Twitter) employed them for politics, Pew said:
- Eighteen percent discovered on them who their friends voted for in the November elections.
- Fourteen percent received candidate or campaign information.
- Thirteen percent posted political content.
- Eleven percent friended a candidate or political group.
- Ten percent started or joined a political group.
For those using Twitter for political purposes, the top reasons were to get information about the campaign or candidates, to monitor election results as they occurred, to follow a candidate or political group, and to post links to political content on their accounts.
As to why people choose to follow candidates or political groups on social networking sites or Twitter, the major reason was that it made users feel more personally connected to them. Other factors were that users felt it helped them find out political news before others and that the information they obtained this way was more reliable than what they got from traditional news organizations.
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