A new study released by the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project finds that Republican voters caught up with Democrats in social media usage in the 2010 elections. In a survey of more than 2,000 American adults, Pew researchers found that among social media users, 40% of Republican voters used sites like Twitter and Facebook to get involved politically compared to 38% of Democratic social media users.
Specifically, the study found that Republican users were more likely than Democrats to use social media to get candidate campaign information (19% v. 15%), post political content (18% v. 16%), friend a candidate or a cause (17% v. 12%), and join a political cause or group (13% v. 11%). The only area where Democratic users outpaced Republican users was in using social media to find out how friends voted—21% of Democratic users versus 19% of Republican users.
The Tea Party—arguably the most visible and vocal manifestation of the rightwing political movement today—saw a dramatic increase in the number of adherents who took to Twitter and Facebook to champion the cause. Some 23% of people who said they agree with the Tea Party used social media to get information on a candidate or campaign, compared to 16% of those who disagree with the Tea Party. Additionally, 22% of Tea Party adherents said they friended a candidate or cause on a social networking site, compared to just 13% of those who disagree with the movement, and 18% of users who agree with the Tea Party joined a political group or cause compared to 15% of those who disagree.
The findings are fairly significant given the fact that social media users tend to be younger and more left-leaning. Indeed, in a breakdown of age group, the study found that Internet users under the age of 30 still make up the majority of social media users—a full 74%, to be exact—and they led other age groups in political activity on social networking sites in almost every category. But Internet users over the age of 50 make up the fastest growing cohort of social media users, and while they only account for 24% of social media users altogether, they rivaled and even outpaced younger social media users in political activity on social networking sites.
For example, 12% of both users under 30 and users over 50 friended a candidate or a cause on a social networking site, compared to 10% of users in the 30-49 age group. Additionally, 12% of under 30 users joined a political group on a social networking site, compared to 10% of over 50 users and 9% of users aged 30-49. Users over the age of 50 actually led other groups in using a social networking site to get candidate or campaign information: 18% of over 50 users did this compared to 16% of under 30 users and just 11% of users aged 30-49.
This is statistically significant when you consider the fact that there are nearly two-thirds more under 30 users on social networking sites than there are users over 50.
By comparison, the Pew Research Center's recent report on mobile users and politics found that left-leaning cell phone owners slightly outweigh right-leaning cell phone owners. The December report found that 35% of mobile users were Democrats while 27% were Republicans and 32% identified as Independents.