Election 2012: How Voters Play Smartphone Politics

Smartphone-toting voters use devices to comment on news, but mobile apps from parties and candidates have yet to take off, Pew Research finds.

Patience Wait, Contributor

October 16, 2012

2 Min Read

Social Studies: Obama vs. Romney

Social Studies: Obama vs. Romney

Social Studies: Obama vs. Romney (click image for larger view and for slideshow)

When President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney square off in the second presidential debate Tuesday night, voters around the country will be using their smartphones to follow the news, check facts, and weigh in on social media sites.

A recent survey by the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project found that mobile phones have become a key information tool for the public in the 2012 election. "Smartphone owners are using their mobile devices as a tool for political participation on social networking sites and as a way to fact check campaign statements in real time," according to the Oct. 9 report.

The mobile politics report examines how registered voters across the political spectrum are using their phones during the campaign season. Among registered voters, 88% own cellphones, and 48% of those are smartphones. Nineteen percent of survey respondents with cellphones have sent campaign-related text messages to family and acquaintances, and 45% of smartphone users have read comments on social networking sites about a political candidate or campaigns.

[ Looking for a satisfying "second-screen" experience? See Social Media Guide To The Presidential Debates. ]

But political candidates apparently are not doing an effective job at connecting with on-the-go voters via mobile applications. The survey found that only 5% of cellphone carrying respondents have signed up to receive messages from candidates or other political groups, and just 8% have used apps from a candidate, political party, or interest group to get information about the campaign. "At the moment, cellphone apps are playing a relatively minor role in connecting voters to candidates," according to the report.

People are using their mobile devices to check on the veracity of political messaging. Thirty-five percent of smartphone users have used their devices to check whether something they heard about a candidate or campaign is true. And 27% of registered voters with cellphones have used their devices to follow the news around the 2012 presidential election,

Pew surveyed 1,005 U.S. residents September 20-23 for the report, which did not find big differences in device usage by party affiliation. "Republicans and Democrats engage at comparable levels in all of the mobile-politics activities measured," according to the report.

Among Republicans, 90% have cellphones and 45% have smartphones; regarding Democrats, 85% have cellphones and 47% have smartphones, and of Independents, 89% have cellphones and 49% have smartphones. Liberals (56%) and moderates (55%) outstrip conservatives (40%) in smartphone ownership.

About the Author(s)

Patience Wait


Washington-based Patience Wait contributes articles about government IT to InformationWeek.

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