Any estimations about how strongly the Internet would influence election results this year might have been greatly exaggerated, according to a new Pew study. As it turns out, only 25% of Americans are getting campaign news from the Internet and, what's more startling, fewer young people are turning to the Internet as a source for campaign news than did in 2008.
The Pew study found that only 20% of 18- to 29-year-olds are using the Internet as a regular resource for news about campaigns, whereas 42% of that same demographic relied on the Internet for campaign news in 2008. As the youngsters of America have used the Internet less for campaign news this election year, the 30- to 49-year-old demographic have been using the Internet more than in 2008 as a way to get learned with the campaign news. Overall, though, most Americans are now getting their campaign news from cable news networks (because that's always so fair and balanced).
Given that the drop in the 18-29 demographic is so precipitous yet the 30-49 group continued to increase, I wonder if part of that shift could be owed to the fact that people who were in the 18-29 demographic in 2008 simply aged into the 30-49 demographic for 2012. If that were the case, then that would also open up the possibility that young people these days, they just don't really care about the election (yet).
Party affiliation didn't appear to be a determining factor among Americans who rely on cable networks for campaign news as 45% of Republicans, 41% of Democrats, and 37% of independents all choose cable television over any other sources included in this survey. What's amusing is that 57% of conservative Republicans claim that there is "a great deal of media bias." Someone should send out a newsletter to these tinfoil hat-wearing bugbears and inform them that just because a news station isn't FOX News doesn't necessarily mean it's biased.
As for the prowess of social networking sites, Pew's survey revealed that "very few" Americans are relying on these sites as a means to learn about candidates. Only 6% of Americans said they regularly learn about a campaign through Facebook, whereas only 2% said the same about Twitter. Pew explains, "This partly reflects the fact that these social networks are not used at all by large numbers of Americans."
Ironically, I wonder how many of these cable news stations are now relying on social media to fetch news stories. Could be a filter effect happening there, or it could simply be that Americans aren't yet acclimated to social networking sites as a feed for their news (nor may they ever get to that point).
It's peculiar that cable news and the Internet have both leveled off since 2008. Pew found that 40% of Americans under 50-years-old say they regularly or sometimes learn about a campaign from Facebook. For those 50 and over, only 24% name social networking as a regular source. Given that it's only January and the long winter of the Republican primary doesn't appear to be ending anytime soon, it'll be curious to watch if these levels of engagement with cable news and the Internet for campaign news changes as the calendar pages flip closer and closer to November.