Many College Facebook Users Say Web Advocacy Better Than In-Person

Young adults and college students will be key voting groups in 2012, especially when it comes to organizing efforts, and Democrats and Republicans will look to Facebook, Twitter, email and blogs to rally those volunteer troops. A recent study conducted on behalf of Harvard University’s Institute of Politics found that around a third of 4-year college students said using online tools like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube has a greater impact than in-person advocacy.

The “Survey of Young Americans’ Attitudes toward Politics and Public Service” study, conducted by Knowledge Networks in February, found that 32 percent of college students with Facebook accounts believe advocating for a political position using online tools has more of an impact than advocating in-person. Twenty-seven percent of 18- to 29-year-olds surveyed said the same. Around a quarter of both groups said online tools have about the same impact as in-person advocacy.

In some cases, though, smaller portions of those groups said they’ve actually used Facebook to advocate for a political position, issue or candidate. Among 18- to 29-year-old Facebook users, 21 percent said they’ve used Facebook to advocate for a political position, 29 percent have liked an issue, and 24 percent have liked a candidate. Of college students, 29 percent said they’ve used Facebook to advocate for a political position, 37 percent liked an issue, and 31 percent liked a candidate.

Even smaller portions of the groups used email or letters to push a political issue or candidate. Sixteen percent of 18- to 29-year-olds advocated via email or letter, compared to 23 percent of college students. However, more said they’ve signed an online petition. Thirty percent of 18-29 year olds and 40 percent of college students said they have done so.

A lot of the 2012 advocacy messages posted to Facebook and Twitter will probably feature web videos shared through sites like YouTube and Vimeo. While Republican groups are already flooding the web with videos propping up likely GOP primary candidates or opposing a second term for Barack Obama, the Obama campaign is using video primarily to recruit volunteers. Even before the President officially launched his campaign today via web video, his Organizing for America campaign group began sowing recruitment seeds with a video entitled, “Become an OFA Summer Organizer,” featuring young people who had worked on the ’08 campaign.

“My personal story was that I volunteered all these hours because of one message on Facebook,” said OFA 2008 campaign volunteer, Candice, in the March 18 video.

Although members of these groups say online advocacy works better than door-knocking or other in-person advocacy efforts, their interest in receiving political information online varies depending on the platform. Facebook friends appear to have the most positive perception as online advocates compared to official campaign accounts or friends on Twitter. Of 18-29 year olds, 36 percent said they have some or a great deal of interest in receiving advocacy related messages from friends on Facebook; 29 percent have some or a great deal of interest in official campaign messages on Facebook; and only around 15 percent have some or a great deal of interest in Twitter advocacy messages from friends or official campaign accounts.

More College students were interested in getting advocacy messages on Facebook and Twitter: 41 percent have some or a great deal of interest in advocacy messages from Facebook friends, compared to 37 percent with some or a great deal of interest in advocacy from official campaigns on Facebook. Just 17 percent have some or a great deal of interest in Twitter advocacy from friends or official campaign outlets.

Knowledge Networks conducted the study, based on interviews with over 2,000 people, between February 11 and March 2.

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