Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

Social media and politics in 2010 campaign

22% of online Americans used social networking or Twitter for politics in 2010 campaign

Republicans catch up to Democrats in social media use for politics

Washington, DC – After first gaining prominence as tools for political engagement during the 2008 presidential election, social media became a regular part of the political environment for voters in the 2010 midyear elections. Some 22% of online adults used Twitter or social networking sites such as Facebook or MySpace in the months leading up to the November, 2010 elections to connect to the campaign or the election itself.

  • 11% of online adults discovered on a social networking site who their friends voted for in the November elections
  • 9% of online adults received candidate or campaign information on social networking sites or Twitter
  • 8% of online adults posted political content on Twitter or a social networking site
  • 7% of online adults friended a candidate or political group on a social networking site, or followed them on Twitter
  • 7% of online adults started or joined a political group on a social networking site
  • 1% of online adults used Twitter to follow the election results as they were happening

In contrast to the 2008 race—in which Democratic voters led the way in their use of online social networks for political purposes—Republican voters and supporters of the “Tea Party” movement caught up with Democrats in their use of social media in 2010.

  • The “political social media user” group represented by these 22% of internet users voted for Republican congressional candidates over Democratic candidates by a 45%-41% margin
  • Among social networking site users, 40% of Republican voters and 38% of Democratic voters used these sites to get involved politically
  • Tea Party supporters were especially likely to friend a candidate or political group on a social networking site during the 2010 election—22% of such users did this, significantly higher than all other groups

“The social networking population as a whole has grown larger and demographically more diverse in recent years, and the same is true when it comes to political activity on social networking sites.” said Aaron Smith, a Senior Researcher Specialist at the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project and author of the report. “These platforms are now utilized by politically active individuals of all ages and ideologies to get news, connect with others, and offer their thoughts on the issues that are important to them.”

The main reason Americans follow political groups on social networking sites or Twitter is that doing so helps them feel more personally connected to the candidates or groups they follow—36% say that this is a “major” reason they follow these groups or candidates, and an additional 35% say it is a “minor” reason. Two-thirds (67%) of those who follow politicians or other political groups on social networking sites or Twitter say that the information posted by those they follow is interesting and relevant, and a similar number say that they pay attention to most (26%) or some (40%) of the material posted by the politicians or groups they follow.

These findings come from a nationwide telephone survey of 2,257 American adults (including 755 interviewed on cell phones) conducted between November 3 and November 24, 2010. The margin of error is three percentage points for results based on internet users (n=1,628).

About the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project

The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project is one of seven projects that make up the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan, nonprofit “fact tank” that provides information on the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world. The Project produces reports exploring the impact of the internet on families, communities, work and home, daily life, education, health care, and civic and political life. The Project aims to be an authoritative source on the evolution of the internet through surveys that examine how Americans use the internet and how their activities affect their lives.

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