THE BLOG

Pew's Internet and Politics Survey

06/16/2008 01:58 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

You may have seen it already elsewhere online, but yesterday, the Pew Internet & American Life {roject released a report on the Internet and the 2008 election (summary, full report/pdf, questionnaire/pdf). The Pew Internet Project tracks the way Americans interact online more thoroughly than any other public source that I know of, and this report updates several measures on the Internet and politics that they track every six months or so.

Here are some of the highlights:

In total, 46% of all adults are using the internet, email, or phone text messaging for political purposes in this election. That is the percentage of those who are doing at least one of the three major activities we probed—getting news and information about the campaign, using email to discuss campaign-related matters, or using phone texting for the same purpose.

  • 40% of all Americans (internet users and non-users alike) have gotten news andinformation about this year’s campaign via the internet.

  • 19% of Americans go online once a week or more to do something related to the campaign, and 6% go online to engage politically on a daily basis.

  • 23% of Americans say they receive emails urging them to support a candidate or discuss the campaign once a week or more.

  • 10% of Americans use email to contribute to the political debate with a similar frequency.

The survey also finds that 35% of adults report having watched at least one type of politically related video online during the campaign (from five categories that the Pew survey asked about). They also find a partisan tilt to political Internet use:

Younger online political users tilt in favor of the Democrats in general and Obama in particular, and that has a bearing on the partisan breakdown of online activity. Simply put, Democrats and Obama backers are more in evidence on the internet than backers of other candidates or parties.

While the results above have garnered the most attention, I wonder whether campaigns are already tailoring their online communication strategies to fit the perceived weaknesses of online information identified by the Pew report:

Although a respectable share of online Americans say that the internet has helped them to be more involved in the campaign and feel more personally connected to their candidate of choice, even larger numbers feel that the internet is a megaphone for extreme viewpoints and a source of misinformation for many voters.

Specifically:

  • 60% agree that "the internet is full of misinformation and propaganda that too many voters believe is accurate," 32% disagree.
  • 48% agree that "the news and information you get online is just the same as you can get anywhere else," 47% disagree.

In other words, does this result suggest more interaction and a greater willingness of ordinary consumers to "fact check" information on their own? If so it provides some support for Thomas Goetz' speculation about the motivation behind the Obama FightTheSmears.com site.

Finally, two methodological footnotes. First, the Pew Internet study was conducted by telephone using a random digit dial (RDD) sample of wired phone and without a supplemental sample of cell-phones, something the Pew Center does periodically for their political surveys.

Second, the full report includes both the final response rate (25%) and a full set of disposition data -- a rarity for public poll releases. Keep in mind that this particular Pew survey was in the field for a full month, something that helped boost its contact rate to levels higher than is typical for most 3-6 day political surveys.