We get it, the Internet matters – but how much in the political world? And what about younger voters? Will the Web affect the way they cast their ballots on Election Day? We found out.
Earlier this week, Waggener Edstrom Worldwide released results from the Young Internet Voter of 2008 Study. We wanted to learn more about Young Internet Voters (18-35 year olds) and how they are using digital communications to gather information about the 2008 U.S. presidential race.
As Waggener Edstrom’s Vice President of Digital Strategies, and former White House Internet Director, I noted several points of interest based on our findings.
- It’s the Medium, Not the Message: The WE survey strikes another fairly significant ‘blow’ at traditional media, finding that an overwhelming majority (76%) prefer online sources for news and information rather than the traditional news sources. The primary reasons for this shift in preference – respondents feel the latter attempts to control and shape the news in a way they find problematic and off-putting. Some positive news, however, did emerge for traditional media: 38% of those responding to the survey have more confidence in its content; as opposed to slightly more than 30% who have confidence in Internet content.
- Digital Strategy Trumps Traditional Marketing/PR: The study further revealed that the Web and digital communications have helped bring teens and young adults into the fold this election cycle – more so that the candidates’ themselves or their personalities (e.g. Obamamania). Specifically 57% strongly or somewhat agree that the Internet and digital media have facilitated them feeling more engaged in this year’s election process – more than they ever have in the past.
- Engaging with Digital Substance: While the Internet is surely playing a role and young voters are poised to turn out in record numbers in November, the campaigns have yet to engage young voters – a crucial demographic bloc in November – in substantial policy discussions.
- Getting Social: Perhaps some of the most telling statistics revolve around this demographic’s monthly participation in social media. For example, more than half (62%) of those polled indicated that they visited social networks such as Facebook and MySpace, 60% read blogs (compared with 25% who wrote) and 79% watched online videos on YouTube and other media sites. Many tout text messaging as the next step in online campaigning, yet only 24% have sent or received a text message at least monthly regarding a political candidate.
- And the Winner Is: Although the Internet clearly emerged as the medium of choice among this group, young voters also weighed in on the efforts of political parties to connect with them online. Overwhelmingly, 56% felt that the Democrats are doing a better job as compared with 13% for Republicans. When asked who they would vote for if the presidential election were held today, 49% chose Democratic Sen. Barack Obama, while 29% indicated they would support Republican Sen. John McCain – with 78% responding that they were certain to vote on election day or early/absentee.
These numbers should serve as a baseline for future campaigns, especially when targeting the growing Millennial generation. As they continue to age, their use of technology to communicate – and their ability to influence elections – will only increase.
Of course, turnout has always been the key to winning elections and it still remains to be seen whether online activity will translate into actual votes in November.
Young Internet Voter.com (The Next Right)
[Promoted – The internet is becoming more and more important in politics, and Republicans are not doing well in that space. This is going to have an impact that lasts for generations. – Jon Henke]
It’s the Medium, Not the Messenger (Washington Post: The Trail)
The Web Is Where It’s At for Youth Vote (Advertising Age)
Reaching Young Voters Online (Porter County Politics)