The Pew report found nearly half of all Americans used the Internet, e-mail or mobile text messaging in ways relating to the primary campaigns this spring. Pew also found the percentage of adult Americans who went online daily to get political news or information more than doubled since the last presidential election, increasing to 17 percent from 2004’s level of 8 percent.
The message for Internet-naive candidates: Get onboard and sell yourself via the Web.
“What this report confirms in the particular case of politics is that the electoral world is moving in the same direction as the broader Internet world,” said Pew Internet & American Life Project Director Lee Rainie. “Everything we are picking up for politics is playing out in the commercial and non-commercial space online in the same ways.”
For example, the Pew research found online video — both clips provided by the campaigns and those uploaded to sites such as YouTube by non-affiliated individuals — played a big part in the primaries. According to the report, 35 percent of the 2,251 Pew survey respondents said they watched online political videos, nearly triple the number who did four years ago.
“Video is now a central part of the online experience for people in a way it wasn’t in 2004,” said Rainie.
Another big online activity among those interested in the campaigns and those doing the campaigning was social networking. Pew figures 10 percent of Americans used sites such as Facebook or MySpace “to gather information or become involved” in the primaries.
Another Pew finding: People have become more comfortable doing money transactions online and that equated, in the primaries, to donating funds to their candidates of choice. Six percent donated online this spring, 4 percent more than in 2004, Pew determined.
“It underlines the word ‘ditto’ for everything that’s taking place in the commercial environment,” commented Rainie.
Online advertising expert Michael Bassik, VP of interactive marketing at MSHC Partners, said that while the Pew report confirms the 2008 primaries saw extraordinary use of the Internet by interested people, the candidates might have missed the boat when it comes to advertising.
“When you look at the fact that nearly half of all adults got information about the primary through new media and compare that with fact that the candidates collectively spent less than 2 percent of their ad budgets to advertise on the Internet, clearly there is a tremendous disconnect between the amount of information people want to receive from the Internet and the amount of information candidates deliver to these audiences,” said Bassik.
Given the Pew numbers, Bassik said he finds it “almost remarkable” that the candidates are still relying almost exclusively on traditional media to advertise.
“In terms of the amount spent, the dollars spent, more was spent online than in any primary season that preceded it, but as a percentage of the campaign budgets online saw no growth over 2004,” said Bassik.
Even if people went online only to watch video of The Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s sermons, Bassik said a savvy campaign marketer would have bought ads to run alongside the Wright videos. “The candidates embraced social media but they didn’t marry social media with advertising,” he lamented.