Does Social Sway Elections?

Facebook, Twitter, and smartphones are becoming powerful influencers in political elections, according to two new polls by Pew and ShareThis.

The Pew research poll, which sampled from more than 2,000 adults across all 50 states, found that 28 percent of registered voters have used cell phones to keep up with news relating to the election, as opposed to just 13 percent in 2010. Furthermore, 16 percent of registered voters now follow political candidates on social media, while just 6 percent followed a candidate in 2010.

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The idea that social media only influences Millennials during elections is a thing of the past, according to the poll. Voters of all ages and political parties are using mobile for news and following political figures on social media, but the most dramatic shift in use is that of voters 30 to 49 years old. In 2010, just 6 percent of this age group followed a politician on social media. Now, the number has increased to 21 percent. Likewise, in 2010 only 15 percent of voters aged 30 to 49 used their cell phones to keep up with election news. In 2014, that number has risen to 40 percent.

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This year, Election Day activity was more prominent across social media than ever before as users proudly declared their political involvement with hashtags and stickers. Tessa Wegert, communications director for Enlighten and social media strategist, believes that Election Day behavior can give us valuable insight into how different demographics interact across social media.

“As always, social media is providing some fascinating insight into the consumer mindset, but in this election in particular it’s been interesting to watch how, why, and where they share,” Wegert says. “In general, consumers shared much more about the issues than the political candidates.”

For example, the ShareThis study found that Democrats tend to prefer Twitter and Reddit, while Republicans use Facebook.

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As social media increasingly becomes a part of campaigns, social platforms like Twitter and Facebook have begun adding features to invite political discussion and sharing.

This year’s election also saw an increase in :the use of hashtags like #IVoted, #IVotedSelfie, #IVotedBecause, and #IVotedToday, along with visual tweets on the voting experience,” Wegert says. “On Twitter, some consumers were so determined to share an image of an ‘I Voted’ sticker that they crafted their own.”

On Election Day, Facebook added a banner at the top of users’ News Feeds urging them to go out and vote. The banner, which Facebook calls a megaphone, was prominently placed in News Feeds, just above the status update box. The megaphone encouraged users to vote, offered links to precinct maps, and generated a status to let friends know that the user voted.

Meanwhile, Twitter got involved in Election Day social media by providing the #Election2014 dashboard, which featured a feed of political tweets and offered a searchable map where users could select a state for localized discussion.

The popularity of Election Day shares “speaks to the influence that social media has over its user,” Wegert says. “The #IVoted hashtag and sticker image became status symbols; there was a sense of exclusivity to them that consumers really wanted to associate themselves with. I think for many voters, social media created a sense of belonging and an opportunity to perceive themselves as being part of something big.”

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