Pew releases study on politics and mobile

Faith Merino · December 23, 2010 · Short URL:

Report finds 26% of adults used their cell phones to get election campaign information

It’s common knowledge that if you want up-to-the-minute information on a political election, you turn to Twitter.  These days, that’s as easy as whipping out your cell phone. A new report from the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project found that more than a quarter of American adults did just that during the 2010 mid-terms. 

Some 26% of Americans used their cell phones to access information about, or to participate in, the 2010 mid-term campaign, according to the Pew Research Center.

To put the numbers into context, it is worth noting that of all Americans, 82% have cell phones, 71% use their cell phone for texting, and 39% use it for accessing the Internet. 

Interestingly, 71% of cell phone owners surveyed said that they voted, compared to 64% of the total population.  But actual turnout was approximately 40%, which means that a large chunk of cell phone owners said they voted when they didn’t.  The Pew report notes that it is common for post-election surveys to find that more people claim to have voted than the turnout results indicate.

Of cell phone owners who said they voted, 14% said they used their cell phone to tell others that they had voted.  12% of adult cell phone owners used their phones to check on updates and news about the election, and 10% sent text messages related to the election to friends and family.  Additionally, 6% used their cell phones to text others about conditions at polling locations, 4% used their phones to monitor election results as they occurred, and 1% contributed money to a candidate or group via text message.

So who really voted?  While the Pew Center did not administer lie detector tests, it did break down the demographics of who used their cell phone to keep up with the election campaign.  Men led women 29% to 24%, and in an ethnic breakdown, black voters had the highest rate of cell phone usage in relation to the election campaign, with 36% saying they used their cell phones to get political information, compared to 25% of white voters and 25% of Hispanic voters.

Not surprising at all—younger cell phone owners (between the ages of 18 and 29) led the age groups in the highest rate of cell phone owners using their phones in relation to the election—39%, compared to 30% of adults aged 30-49, 23% of adults aged 50-64, and 9% of adults aged 65 and older.

The stats related to younger cell users and politics is particularly interesting, since young voters typically have the smallest turnout on Election Day.  In the Pew report, however, younger cell phone owners had the highest rates of cell phone usage across the board for all categories related to politics, including letting others know about polling place conditions, monitoring election results as they occur, sharing photos and videos related to the election, and more.

So which parties are represented the most among cell phone owners?  The Pew report found a pretty even distribution among the major political parties, with 27% of respondents identifying as Republican, 35% identifying as Democrat, and 32% describing themselves as Independent.  This more or less reflects the real life distribution of political groups, with the Democratic lead possibly explainable by the fact that higher rates of young people use cell phones for political purposes, and a greater number of younger voters identify themselves as Democrats.

Oddly enough, while slightly more mobile political users identified with the Democratic Party, 34% of respondents said they agree with the Tea Party, compared to 32% who said they disagree (the remaining respondents had no opinion).  This differs from the general population, of which 30% say they agree with the Tea Party compared to 25% who say they disagree.  But it is also worth noting that cell phone owners who do not support the Tea Party are more likely to use their cell phones for political reasons than those who do support the Tea Party: 27% of respondents who do not support the Tea Party said they used their cell phone to get campaign updates, compared to 18% of users who do support the Tea Party.  Additionally, on Election Night, 10% of mobile users who disagree with the Tea Party used their cell phones to get Election updates, compared to 6% of mobile users who support the Tea Party.

Some politicians had to learn the hard way that they don’t win votes by joking about their digital illiteracy, like... say, not knowing how to email. 

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