The Web’s Role In The 2008 U.S. Presidential Election

The Web’s Role In The 2008 U.S. Presidential Election

The Pew Research Center has recently come out with its “Internet’s Broader Role in Campaign 2008” report. This report’s findings are based on the results of a survey the Center conducted in December 2007 amongst 1430 American adults. The data is fascinating and I wanted to share of its most intriguing findings with you.

Summary of Findings:

1) The internet is becoming one of the leading sources for news about the presidential campaign for all Americans. 24% of Americans say they regularly learn something about the campaign from the internet, almost double the percentage from respondents in the 2004 campaign (13%) and almost triple the percentage found in the 2000 campaign (9%).



2) The internet has become a leading source of campaign news for young Americans. 42% of those ages 18 to 29 say they regularly learn about the campaign from the internet. In 2004, only 20% of this demographic group said that they got such news from the internet. 

An interesting side note, since young Americans find their campaign news online as opposed to older Americans who are more likely to receive their news from traditional sources, it’s definitely worth examining how these trends may affect the different age groups’ voting decisions and opinions.



3) Amongst those Americans who rely on the internet for their news, MSNBC, CNN, and Yahoo News are the most popular sites. However, it’s interesting to note that 3% turn to MySpace and 2% turn to YouTube. Roughly four-in-ten people under age 30 (41%) have watched at least one campaign video online, compared with 20% of those ages 30 and older.

4) 27% of Americans younger than age 30 – including 37% of those ages 18-24 – have said that they received campaign news from social networking sites. This fact is true only when we look at the young demographic; 4% of Americans in their 30s, and 1% of those ages 40 and older, have received information about the campaign in this manner.

I know I have received quite a good deal of news regarding the different candidates on Twitter and Facebook. Barack Obama’s people have done an amazing branding job online.

TV Still #1 Information Source But Slipping

26% of Americans mention the internet either first or second as their main source of election news. Among young Americans, the internet is gaining popularity as a main source for election news while television is losing its popularity. In 2004, 75% of those ages 18 to 29 cited television and only 21% cited the internet as their main source for campaign news. Today those numbers have changed. 60% of this age group cite Television and 46% cite the internet as their primary source for election news.



Top Three Election News Sites and the Long Tail

While 54% of American users get their campaign news from MSNBC, CNN and Yahoo, there is also a very long tail of other such online sources. While only 13 individual websites were named by 1% or more of the people who get campaign news online, hundreds of individual websites were named by fewer than 1%.

29% of those Americans who get news online cite one of these smaller websites as a source of campaign information. This means that for every person getting campaign news from a site like MSNBC, there is a person getting campaign news from one of these long tail websites. Such websites may represent local newspapers, TV stations and radio stations sites. However, according to the findings, a large percentage of these sites are internet news sites – politically oriented or otherwise.

Perhaps many of these sites are political blogs written by citizens. It would be interesting to examine how the emergence of such blogs has changed the way we view politics and what kind of effect this has had on our political opinions and voting decisions.

Younger Americans cite more election information sources than older Americans. MySpace is cited by 8% of the 18-29 age group, less than 1% of those ages 30 and over, and the pattern for YouTube is almost identical.



Online Campaign Activities

As we have seen, all the candidates used the Web in order to communicate their political messages to the public.

About one-in-six Americans (16%) have sent or received emails with friends and family regarding candidates and the campaign, and 14% have received email messages from political groups or organizations about the campaign.

Most candidates also used social networks to communicate with their audiences.



Social Networking Sites

Since about one-in-five Americans (22%) (and two-thirds of Americans ages 18-29) is a member in an online social networking site such as MySpace or Facebook, candidates needed to use such networks to deliver their messages to the public. These findings emphasize the relevance and strength of such online communities.

27% of younger Americans (including 37% of those ages 18-24) say that they have received information about candidates and the campaign from them on social networking sites. Nearly one-in-ten of people under age 30 (8%) say that they have become a friend of one of the candidates on a site. The numbers are even higher for each of these activities amongst young registered voters.

Older voters have been found to be less politically active on social networks. About one-in-five Americans ages 30-39 (21%) use social networking sites, but just 4% in this age group say that they have received campaign information from those sites; 3% have become friends with a candidate.



The Strength of Online Videos

Online videos have played a huge part in this election campaign. 24% of Americans say they have seen either a speech, interview, commercial, or debate online. 41% of those under age 30 have viewed some sort of video online. The percentage goes down as the age groups get older, but even amongst those ages 65 and older, 7% have seen an election video online.



Views of Political Bias on the Web

13% of web users say there are more news websites and blogs that favor the Democrats, while 6% of users say more sites favor the Republicans. However the general view (45%) is that there about equal numbers of news and opinion websites on both sides.
Since 36% of web users didn’t even respond to the question, it seems that about 81% don’t perceive of any general political tilt on the internet. These same findings were found amongst those respondents who get most of their campaign news online.

It’s good to see that people, especially those who use the internet as their main news source, feel that they get an equal amount of information on the Web regarding both sides. This presents the Web as an increasingly relevant source of news.  



Overall I think these findings show the increasing importance of the Web as a news source and the significance of social sites as a tool for politicians to deliver their messages to the public. There is incredible power vested within sites such as Facebook, MySpace, and YouTube. When making voting decisions, people will take into account how the candidates are represented on each of these platforms. To illustrate this point, the findings even tell the story of Senator George Allen who had lost the the 2006 race for the U.S. Senate seat in Virginia due to a YouTube video which circulated at the time showing him mocking an Indian-American campaign worker. Today we are able to receive more news from more sources than ever before and hopefully this should also allow us to make more calculated and intelligent voting decisions.


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