Last year, the Pew Internet and American Life Project conducted an exhaustive study about the effects of social media on the political landscape. The full results can be viewed by heading over to their website at pewinternet.org. The results were quite eye-opening, and it showed just how much the Digital Age has changed and influenced political engagement. Since the majority of interns and recent grads that come through WISH will be pursuing careers in public policy – or at least have an interest in it – it’s a good idea to take a quick look at just what this field will look like in the years ahead and beyond.
The first number that jumps out is this one: 60% of all American adults use social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. That’s up from 33% in 2008. An enormous jump in just five years. Imagine what that number might look like in another five years. If you’re wondering how that has influenced political engagement, check these stats out:
- 23% of all adults have “liked” or promoted material related to political/social issues that others have posted
- 21% have encouraged others to vote
- 19% have reposted content related to political/social issues
- 19% have encouraged others to take action on issues important to them
- 17% posted links to political stories or articles for others to read
- 12% followed elected officials, candidates or other public figures
That’s a lot of engagement. Is it any wonder that presidential campaigns are starting so early now? The political process starts online where constituents and organizers can spread word and build buzz faster than they ever could before. It’s only going to get faster.
Who’s Mostly Posting?
In short, you are. That’s the simple answer, anyway. A more technical answer (pun intended) would be that 93% of all 18-24 year olds use social media. That’s not really shocking, though, when you consider that nearly every college student and recent grad out there usually has some sort of device permanently growing out of their hands. Like an appendage. But what is shocking is what you’re doing on there. Sixty-seven percent of young people are politically active on social. You’re not just posting about what you had for dinner or where you went out last night. You’re spreading awareness and engaging in issues that are important to you. And that’s a good thing. It’s something that would make the founders smile.
However, beyond young people, the demographics break down pretty evenly:
- 36% of men are politically active on social while 42% of women are.
- 40% of whites are politically active while 37% of blacks are, compared to 31% of Hispanics
- 38% of Republicans are active while 40% of Democrats are, compared to 42% of Independents
Who’s Taking Action?
Which leads us to how all that online engagement actually translates into action. Let the numbers tell the tale. Nineteen percent of all 18-29 year olds take action on a political issues because of what they read on social. The highest of any age group. However, the survey found that social network users of all ages are equally likely to say they have taken action because of things they have read or heard on these sites. Examples of this are as follows.
- 63% of all users have attended a political meeting or worked with fellow citizens to solve a problem in their community
- 60% have sent an email to a government official, or signed an online petition
- 53% have sent a letter to a government official or signed a paper petition
- 20% have made a political contribution of some kind, whether online or offline
Understanding and respecting the power of what you put out there, what you read and respond to and how it inspires human behavior is the difference between leaders and followers. The statistics read clearly: social media conversations spur deeper interest and involvement in political and civic issues. So, remember: if you have a great something original to inspire action or create awareness — tweet it, post it, text it, blog it. Leaders create — followers share.