Social Media Activists Are Wealthy, Educated and on the Rise

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Six-fold increase Americans talking politics on Facebook, Twitter, other sites, since 2008.

The percentage of Americans talking politics on social media has skyrocketed since the 2008 elections but politically active people continue to be disproportionately wealthier and better educated, both on social media and in the offline world, a new report shows.

About 17 percent of all adults posted links to political articles on social media in 2012 and 19 percent posted other political content, according to a report released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project. That’s a six-fold increase from the 3 percent of adults who posted political stories to those sites in 2008, the report said.

About 12 percent of adults followed or friended a candidate or other political figure in 2012, compared with just 3 percent in 2008. The percentage of Americans using social media grew from 33 percent of the online population to 69 percent during that same period.

Politically active social media users also tend to be politically active elsewhere in the online and offline world, the report said.

Nearly 65 percent of them said they had recently attended a political meeting or joined with other citizens to solve a community problem, compared with a national average of 48 percent. About 53 percent had taken a political stand offline -- by signing a paper petition or sending a letter to a government official, for instance -- compared with a national average of 39 percent.

People with higher education levels continue to be significantly more politically active than people with less education, though, and the growth of social networking hasn’t done much to change that.

Fewer than 60 percent of social networking site users without high school degrees are politically active on those sites, while nearly 75 percent of users with college degrees are politically active on the sites, the survey said.

“Despite hopes that the Internet could change the fundamental nature of political participation, it is still the case that the well-educated and relatively well-off are more likely to take part in civic life both online and offline,” report author Aaron Smith said in a statement.

People with higher incomes were also more likely to be politically active on social media than those with lower incomes but this difference was largely due to higher social media participation among the wealthy, the report said. Among social media users in general, there was no significant gap in social media political participation based on income. 

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