The 2008 election was truly the most Internet-based presidential race ever, but the more voters went online, the more they sought out partisan content, a new report shows.
For the first time ever, more than half of the voting age population--55 percent of adults--went online for news and information about a presidential election or to communicate with others about the race, according to a report released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project.
Twenty-six percent of Americans said they relied on the Internet as a major source of campaign news in 2008, compared with 11 percent in 2000.
With greater online political engagement, the report shows, came greater partisanship. One-third of online news consumers said they usually seek out online political information from Web sites that share their political point of view, and the more online news sources a person regularly visited, the more likely he would be to seek out specific view points. Nearly half of online news consumers visited at least five different online types of news content in 2008.
"The 2008 elections saw the role of the Internet in politics increase, and it witnessed the emergence of a unique group of online political activists," said Aaron Smith, the Pew research specialist who authored the new report. The research for the report was conducted between November 20 and December 4, 2008.
Official campaign Web sites were also more popular in the 2008 election. While 18 percent of all Internet users visited the John Kerry Web site in 2004 and 14 percent visited George Bush's 2004 site, 30 percent went to Barack Obama's site last year and 21 percent went to John McCain's.
Social media Web sites also featured much more prominently in the 2008 election, which is not surprising--most were in their infancy, if even in existence, during the 2004 campaign. Nearly half of all 18 to 29-year-olds--Internet users and nonusers alike--watched online political videos during the campaign. Among Internet users with a social networking profile, 52 percent used social networking sites for political purposes.
Obama supporters typically were more engaged online than John McCain supporters--26 percent of Obama supporters online created their own original political content online, compared with 15 percent of McCain supporters.
Some voters went online to find voting information. Nearly one in five voters used the Internet to find out where to vote, 16 percent of voters went online for information about absentee or early voting, and 9 percent went online to find out where they were registered to vote.
While more voters turned to the Internet for political information, fewer relied on traditional news sources like radio or newspapers. Television remained the most common source of election news, with 77 percent of Americans watching election-related coverage. Twenty-eight percent of voters cited newspapers as a major source of election news, down from 39 percent in 2000.