What does Civic Engagement look like in the digital age?
Technology in the Nixon & Kennedy Debate
Introduction by Robert Singleton:
Many of you probably remember the first ever televised presidential debate between Nixon and Kennedy (and many of you probably don’t). What was particularly interesting about this event was that the people who watched the debate on television generally thought that Kennedy had won, while those who had listened via radio thought that Nixon had won. The debate is famous for illustrating the fact that the medium by which people get their information really does matter, especially concerning politics. On TV Kennedy looked young a confident, while Nixon had a greater command of the issues, coming off as more informed and experienced to those that heard him speak. Recently the Pew American and Life Project conducted a survey to analyze how people get their civic information now, in the digital age. The results may surprise you. Is there a chance for another Nixon/Kennedy matchup?
Social Media & Civic Engagement
Pew American & Life Project released the results from a survey they did on civic engagement. This survey which was just under 60 pages shows that with the growth of social networking sites, more Americans have been politically active online than ever before. Taking the political activity from the 2012 campaign, the website states that:
- In 2012, 17% of all adults posted links to political stories or articles on social networking sites, and 19% posted other types of political content. That is a six-fold increase from the 3% of adults who posted political stories or links on these sites in 2008.
- In 2012, 12% of all adults followed or friended a political candidate or other political figure on a social networking site, and 12% belonged to a group on a social networking site involved in advancing a political or social issue. That is a four-fold increase from the 3% of adults who took part in these behaviors in 2008.
Before the digital age, there was a large gap in civic engagement between higher income Americans and lower income Americans. In the recent years, with the growth of social media, research shows that the political participation between the highest income and the lowest income groups is noticeably smaller (though socio-economic distinction is still prominent).
Whether it’s reading up on your local politics on your newsfeed or engaging in some civic discourse, there are fewer barriers to civic engagement than ever before. Though only 39% of Americans engaged in some type of political engagement in the 2012 campaign, with the digital age turning townhalls into Facebook walls and Twitter feeds, there are more ways than ever to get civically engaged.