Facebook, phones now part of election decisions

GOP senate candidate Cory Gardner poses with a volunteer Monday. He faces Democratic incumbent Mark Udall in Colorado.

Story highlights

  • Facebook, Twitter playing a bigger role in this year's midterm elections
  • More voters also are getting information from their phones
  • A Pew survey shows middle-aged voters have the biggest increase
  • Facebook will remind users that it's Election Day on Tuesday
When you go to the polls for the midterm elections on Tuesday, there will be a good chance that your Facebook feed and your phone helped you decide how to vote.
Cell phones and social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are playing a bigger role in how Americans get their political information, according to a new survey from the Pew Research Center.
Twice as many Americans used their phones to track information about this year's elections than did so during the last midterms four years ago. And there was an even bigger increase in the number of respondents who said they follow political figures on Facebook and other social media.
In all, 16% of registered voters said they follow politicians on social media, compared with the 6% who said they did so in 2010. The leap has been even bigger among middle-aged voters. Of registered voters from 30 to 49, 26% said they follow politicians online and 40% of whom said they've used their phones to help keep up with news about the elections.
For their part, social media outlets are embracing this expanded role in the political process.
On Tuesday, Facebook will place a banner at the top of U.S. users' feeds reminding them that it's Election Day and urging them to share with friends if they've already voted. The shareable "I'm a Voter!" message, which Facebook calls a "megaphone," is designed to stand out from regular News Feed fare.
The banner also will link users to a webpage showing them where their voting precinct is located.
"Facebook's mission is to make the world more open and connected, and a part of that is helping the people who use our platform to more easily engage with the leaders who make the decisions that affect their lives every day," the company said in a written statement. "In fact, although the megaphone has been available in the U.S. in elections in 2008, 2010 and 2012, for the first time ever this year, the megaphone was shown in elections internationally, including in India, Brazil and Indonesia."
In past elections, critics have complained that Facebook's testing of the megaphone tool -- for example, using the worlds "I Voted" on some and "I'm Voting" on others to see which had more impact -- could have an unfair impact on turnout. But Facebook says the tool has been thoroughly tested and that no "research" will be done on Tuesday.
Twitter is also getting in on the voting-day action.
The microblogging site had developed the #Election2014 dashboard, which lets users follow political tweets, connect with candidates and see what others are saying, including the ability to hone in on state-specific conversations.
Twitter also will be sharing data it collects on users' political activity with media outlets for their election-night coverage.
While online activism has been traditionally associated with younger and, by extension, more liberal voters, the Pew survey showed no strong ideological difference in behavior this time out.
Republicans and Democrats participated in the behaviors noted in the survey at roughly the same rates. Voters from both parties said using social media and mobile technology makes them feel more engaged in the process and more connected to the politicians they support.
Republican and Republican-leaning voters also said they like following politicians directly on social media because it allows them to skip the filter of traditional media outlets.
The report is based on a national survey conducted October 15-20 among 2,003 adults (including 1,494 registered voters).