More than one fifth of all American internet users over the age of 18 used social media sites to get involved in the 2010 midterm elections or to investigate a candidate, a study released Monday said.
Of the roughly 75 percent of adult Americans who go online, 8 percent posted political content to a social media site in the run up to the election and just over 10 percent found out who their friends voted for through social media, according to the study from the Pew Internet and American Life Project.
About 7 percent of online adults friended a candidate on Facebook or followed a candidate on Twitter in advance of the elections, the study said, and about the same percentage joined a political group on a social media site.
The greatest percentage of 18-to-29-year-old social media users used those sites for political purposes in 2010, followed by 29 percent of 30- to 49-year-olds and 33 percent of social media users who are 50 and older.
Republicans lagged Democrats on social media adoption during the 2008 campaign, but had mostly caught up by 2010, the report said.
In 2008, 44 percent of Democratic voters reported using social media compared with only 29 percent of Republican voters, the report said. By 2010, 58 percent of Democratic voters and 54 percent of Republican voters were using social media.
Among all social media users aged 18 and older, 40 percent voted for Republican congressional candidates in 2010 while 38 percent voted Democratic and 29 percent didn't vote. Among Americans who used social media to engage with the campaign, 45 percent voted for Republicans compared to 41 percent who voted for Democrats, the study said.
That divergence may have been merely a reflection of overall voting patterns, which strongly favored Democrats in 2008 and Republicans in 2010.
Tea Party supporters were also heavy social media users during the midterm campaign. Roughly 22 percent of Tea Partiers who use social media friended a candidate during the campaign, the highest percentage of any group, the study said.
The data in the Pew survey can't be easily compared to past data because this is the first time Pew has analyzed social media use during a non-presidential election and it's the first time the organization has asked any survey questions about Twitter.
During the 2012 campaign, the Pew Internet and American Life Project will be examining whether social media is actually effective -- as has often been claimed -- at bringing typically unengaged people into the political debate or if it's merely the new standard route for people who would have become involved anyway, the project's director, Lee Rainie, has said.