As of late September, 88% of registered voters own a cell phone of some kind—and significant numbers of these voters are using their mobile devices to get information about the 2012 election, to interact with the campaigns, and to converse with other voters about political issues:
—27% of registered voters who own a cell phone have used their phone in this election campaign to keep up with news related to the election itself or to political issues in general.
—Three quarters of these cell-owning registered voters use their phone to send or receive text messages, and within this group:
- 19% have sent text messages related to the campaign to friends, family members, or others
- 5% have signed up to receive text messages directly from a candidate or other group involved in the campaign
- 5% say that they have received unwanted election-related text messages that they did not sign up to receive
Smartphone owners are using their mobile devices as a tool for political participation on social networking sites and as a way to fact check campaign statements in real time. Roughly half (48%) of registered voters who own a cell phone say that they have a smartphone, and within this group:
- 45% have used their smartphone to read other people’s comments on a social networking site about a candidate or the campaign in general
- 35% have used their smartphone during this election campaign to look up whether something they just heard about a candidate or the campaign in general was true or not.
- 18% have used their smartphone to post their own comments on a social networking site about a candidate or the campaign in general
At the moment, cell phone apps are playing a relatively minor role in connecting voters to candidates, parties, or interest groups. Some 45% of cell-owning registered voters use cell phone apps, but just 8% of these apps users have used apps from a candidate, political party, or interest group to get information or updates about the campaign during this election season.
Cell phones are being used by a wide range of voters in this year’s election cycle. When it comes to general ownership and usage, registered voters who identify as Democrats and Republicans are equally likely to own a cell phone, to own a smartphone, and to use text messaging or apps. Liberals are a bit more likely than conservatives to own a smartphone or to use text messaging, but cell phone ownership in general is consistent across the ideological spectrum.
Looking specifically at how potential voters are using their phones for political information and engagement, Republicans and Democrats engage at comparable levels in all of the mobile-politics activities we measured in our survey. There are some differences on this issue related to political ideology—for example, liberals are more likely than conservatives to use their phone to get political news—but overall these variations tend to be fairly modest.
About the survey
These findings are based on a nationally representative phone survey of 1,005 adults (ages 18+) conducted September 20-23, 2012. Interviews were conducted in English on landline and cell phones. The sample contained 872 cell phone owners, 731 of whom are registered voters, who were asked questions about using their cell phone for political activities during the 2012 election campaign. The margin of error for the full sample is ± 3.7 percentage points. The margin of error for cell phone owners who are registered to vote is ±4.3 percentage points.