Could the presidential race of 2012 be considered the first “connected election?” After all, it’s the first presidential election held since tablets came to prominence, and smartphones became nearly ubiquitous. Connectivity is a part of the entire process, from the convention to election night. In the coverage of the debates, people are tweeting and posting like never before, and they’re watching the debates on a wide range of devices. And citizens are taking to their Facebook pages to share information and air their opinions, perhaps alienating some of their “Friends” along the way.
Pew Research Center recently released data collected about the first presidential debate this year, providing a window into how people are interacting with this election. Pew says 11% of people who watched the debate live were what it termed “dual screeners,” meaning they viewed it on multiple screens such as smartphones, tablets, and computers in addition to TVs. Also, 3% of viewers watched the debate only online.
Unsurprisingly, younger people were more likely to be dual-screeners, with 22% of live debate watchers under 40 saying they watched on multiple screens. Younger Americans were also more likely to share their thoughts about the debate in realtime online, as 8% of debate watchers under 40 reported doing. Social networking sites were buzzing during the debate—22% of people surveyed said they received debate coverage from sites like Facebook or Twitter.
As we become connected to the Internet and mobile devices in so many other aspects of our lives—work, communication with family and friends, entertainment, and even our finances—it only makes sense that we would use these tools to learn and communicate about the election. When we want to show our support, we may “Like” a candidate on Facebook instead of planting a sign on our lawn. These days, the Web is where you fly your flag.
Pew also says 45% of registered voters with smartphones have used their smartphone to read other people’s comments on a social networking site about a candidate or the campaign in general. Additionally, 18% have used their smartphone to post their own comments on a social networking site about a candidate or the campaign.
All of these facts leave me with the impression that this presidential election is a bit different than any other during my lifetime. But I imagine it’s indicative of how elections will be in the future. We may not yet be able to vote online, but it’s where we can do pretty much everything else.