Some 74% of internet users--representing 55% of the entire adult population--went online in 2008 to get involved in the political process or to get news and information about the election. This marks the first time that a Pew Internet & American Life Project survey has found that more than half of the voting-age population used the internet to get involved in the political process during an election year.
Several online activities rose to prominence in 2008. In particular, Americans were eager to share their views on the race with others and to take part in the online debate on social media sites such as blogs and social networking sites. Among the key findings of our survey:
- Nearly one in five (18%) internet users posted their thoughts, comments or questions about the campaign on an online forum such as a blog or social networking site.
- Fully 45% of internet users went online to watch a video related to the campaign.
- One in three internet users forwarded political content to others. Indeed, the sharing of political content (whether writing and commentary or audio and video clips) increased notably over the course of the 2008 election cycle. While young adults led the way in many political activities, seniors were highly engaged in forwarding political content to their friends and family members.
- Young voters continued to engage heavily in the political debate on social networking sites. Fully 83% of those age 18-24 have a social networking profile, and two-thirds of young profile owners took part in some form of political activity on these sites in 2008.
The relative importance of the internet also continued to grow within the overall political media ecosystem. Among the entire population (internet users and non-users alike) the internet is now equal to newspapers and roughly twice as important as radio as a source of election news and information. Among internet users and young adults, these differences are even more magnified.
Additionally, online political news consumers are delving deeply into the long tail of online political content--nearly half of online political news consumers visited five or more distinct types of online news sites this election cycle. However, this deeper involvement may change the way voters view online news content. Voters are increasingly moving away from news sites with no point of view, and towards sites that match their own political viewpoints--and this is especially true of those who delve deepest into the world of online political content.
Due to demographic differences between the two parties, McCain voters were actually more likely than Obama voters to go online in the first place. However, online Obama supporters were generally more engaged in the online political process than online McCain supporters. Among internet users, Obama voters were more likely to share online political content with others, sign up for updates about the election, donate money to a candidate online, set up political news alerts and sign up online for volunteer activities related to the campaign. Online Obama voters were also out in front when it came to posting their own original political content online--26% of wired Obama voters did this, compared with 15% of online McCain supporters.
About the Survey
This report is based on the findings of the Post-Election survey, a daily tracking survey on Americans' use of the Internet. The results in this report are based on data from telephone interviews conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International between November 20 to December 4, 2008, among a sample of 2,254 adults, 18 and older. For results based on the total sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the error attributable to sampling and other random effects is plus or minus 2.4 percentage points. For results based Internet users (n=1,591), the margin of sampling error is plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.