Destination 270

SMU Students Analyze the 2012 Presidential Election

Social Media: Perhaps the only 21st Century attempt to combat American Political Apathy

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Americans, by and large, are politically apathetic. 56.9 of the voting-age population voted in 2008, that’s just less than half of America who didn’t care either way to make an opinion.

Yet, in 2008 the media argued that social media and the youth vote sprung Barack Obama into Presidential Victory. 2008 was the year of change in political culture, or so we hoped. 2008 was the year of Mark Zuckerberg- social media god- and the year of political advocacy amongst the youngest voters…Yet this 2% increase in young voting did not resonate during the 2010 congressional elections. Will it resonate in 2012?

A study conducted by Nature Publishing Group found that increased presence of political action on social media, namely Facebook, has in fact resulted in increased political activity. The study looked at increased political activity from two different sources: the first being direct contact from ‘close friends’ who shared that they voted as their status, and the second from an overall increase in political information on Facebook home pages.

Our results suggest that the Facebook social message increased turnout directly by about 60,000 voters and indirectly through social contagion by another 280,000 voters, for a total of 340,000 additional votes. That represents about 0.14% of the voting age population of about 236 million in 2010.

With 20 million Twitter followers, it would appear as if President Obama is well aware of this impact. However, followers do not directly correlate votes.

A simple grasp of human psychology can help understand the results of this study. The point of social media, the goal of Facebook, is to connect with an expansive network of friends and family in a socially mediated environment. An underlying goal of Facebook is to feel connected and to feel as if you are a part of something, a sense of belonging. 2008 saw an increase domination of politics on social media. Those 340,000 additional voters found themselves on the cusp of an internet fad, they found themselves amongst another networking group, they ‘belonged’ to something more.

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