The United States is having an election next week and the political machine is just getting warmed up for what is certain to be a very contentious presidential election year in 2012. Over the last 17 years or so, the Internet has become a major player in how voters gain information and make decisions. Since 2008, social media has proven to be a powerful force for campaigns to get out its message. That was especially prevalent in the 2010 mid-term elections and a roiling point will be reached in 2012. The state and local 2011 elections show how social media and the Internet have reached an inflection point where not only are they driving people towards voting booths, they are influencing how they vote.
Multiple surveys have been released recently from companies like Topix and Digitas that show that social media and the Internet has reached a critical point in informing voters and influencing their decisions. Check out the results below.
Local news aggregation site Topix released data from a survey today showing how the Internet and online conversations is fueling informed voters. From a survey of 1,008 people, Topix found that 68% of voters use the Internet for their primary source for information on political candidates and issues. Nearly one in four voters (24%) agreed that online conversations drive their vote while 89% felt online information was the most useful for political information.
Topix has recognized that there is good money in being a destination for political discussion. To a certain extent, this goes back to election cycle of 2008 when many news organizations that had been operating at a loss or with very thin margins saw a huge boost in users, viewers, readers and advertising dollars because of the election. Politics fuels money to media. It has become one of the standard tenets of the relationship between the two entities over the last 60 years.
Topix wants to be the go-to place for local political discourse. The nature of how Topix aggregates local news makes its political discussion forums a perfect place to do that, it is right in the company's wheelhouse. The more people talk about the local elections online, the better it is for Topix.
The Internet, as it is known to do with everything, is starting to calibrate the data around political participation and discussion online. Data feeds the media properties that in turn feed the advertisers which both feed and are fed upon by the political machine.
"The question is how and when you reach a number that matters," said Chris Tolles, CEO of Topix. "It is nice to calibrate this a little and show the results of how online voters are driving the numbers."
In a separate survey done by Digitas, 82% of American adults are social media users. Of that 82%, 88% of social media users are registered voters. There was a specific reason why Newt Gingrinch announced that he was running for president via Twitter. As Tolles said, "these are numbers that matter."
The Digitas survey had 2,361 results from U.S. adults aged 18 and over. The survey said that 86% of social media users own a mobile phone and 88% of those social media mobile phone users are registered voters. Of that slice, social media users with mobile phones aged 18-34, 24% said that it was important to receive information about candidates to their devices.
Many people think that candidates themselves should engage more in the online discussions. As Tolles pointed out, incumbents do not feel the need to engage in discussions while those chasing them are more likely to take risks to get ahead. But, there are dangers.
"Candidates need to believe they have an opportunity as opposed to a liability or online participation," Tolles said. "Candidates are deathly afraid of getting sucked into a conversation they cannot control."
Traditional media and political pundits may disregard these types of findings and surveys saying they only show a slice of the overall pie. To a certain extent, that is true. There is still a huge percentage of the voting public that does not actively engage with the Internet yet still influences important demographics. For instance, the eccentric Ron Paul tends to win online polls and elections. He has a follower base that translates well to the Internet. Yet, nobody thinks that Ron Paul is actually going to win a primary, let alone the presidential election. At the same time, the Internet and online conversation cannot be ignored. Groundswell and grassroots support use to start in local churches and coffee shops. Groundswell now starts on the Web.
Where do you get your political information? Would you be more likely to vote for a candidate that puts themselves out into the Internet ether and engages at will? Let us know in the comments.
Top image and chart: Topix survey. Side bar image: Digital survey and infographic.