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April 25, 2013

Social networking plays new role in politics, poll finds

Here's a new statistic that may not surprise you: Social networking sites are playing a more prominent role in politics.

Thirty nine percent of American adults took part in some sort of political activity on a social networking site during the 2012 campaign, according to a new Pew poll released Thursday.

That's up from the 2008 campaign when only 26 percent used a social networking site of any kind.

And those 39 percent tend to be highly active in other areas of political or civic life -- such as attending a political meeting, working to solve a problem in their community, write to a government official or sign a petition. 

“Many discussions about the impact of the internet on political and civic life assume that the people who take part in political activities on social networking sites are separate and distinct from those who take part in political activities outside social networking sites,” said Aaron Smith, senior Researcher for the Pew Research Center’s Internet Project and author of the report. “In fact, the typical American who is politically active engages with political content across a range of venues — online, offline and in social networking spaces. Social networking sites offer a space for individuals who are passionate about issues to share that passion with others, and their engagement with those issues often bleeds over into other aspects of their lives.”

In 2012, 17 percent of adults posted links to political stories on social networking sites, and 1 percent posted other types of political content. That's six times the number of adults -- three percent -- who did so in 2008.

In 2012, 12 percent of adults followed or friended a political candidate or other political figure on a social networking site, and 12 percent belonged to a group on a social networking site involved in advancing a political or social issue. That's four times the of adults -- three percent -- who did so in 2008.

Those who are active in political issues, online or off, tend to live in higher income households and have college or graduate educations.

“Despite hopes that the internet could change the fundamental nature of political participation, it is still the case that the well-educated and relatively well-off are more likely to take part in civic life both online and offline,” Smith said. 

The study, part of a new report “Civic Engagement in the Digital Age,” is based on a phone survey of 2,253 adults ages 18 and older, conducted between July 16 and August 7, 2012. The margin of error for the full sample is ± 2.4 percentage points.

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