While most take a car ride to a political rally, some of today’s activists are taking a walk to the computer, according to a study released by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project.

Since 2008, political activity on social networking sites has grown. Additionally, the study found discussions on these sites could lead to further engagement with political issues.

In 2008, 11 percent of social networking site users said they post political material for others to read. In 2012 that number grew to 28 percent. The study also found that in 2012, 20 percent of users “friended” or “followed” a political candidate as opposed to 12 percent in 2008, and 21 percent of 2012 users joined a group centered around a political issue, up from 2008’s 13 percent.

The study also found 43 percent of users decided to investigate a political or social issue because of something they had seen posted to a social network, and 18 percent said they took some sort of action based on materials they found on social media.

The survey found that those participating in online activism were likely to involve themselves offline, as well. 63 percent of political social network users said they had recently been involved in a political activity group, over the national average of 43 percent. 53 percent of these users said they have expressed opinions through offline channels (i.e. sending a letter to an official, signing a petition), as opposed to the national average of 39 percent.

Political activity is more common among the well-educated and financially well-off, regardless of whether it takes place online or offline, according to the study.

With regard to general civic activity (both on- and offline), the study found 48 percent of adults participate in some sort of a civic group or activity. The breakdown is as follows:

  • 35 percent of American adults have recently worked with fellow citizens to solve a community problem,
  • 22 percent have attended a political meeting on local, town or school affairs,
  • 13 percent have been active members of groups with goals to influence the public or government,  
  • 10 percent have attended a political rally or speech,  
  • 7 percent have worked or volunteered for a political party or candidate and
  • 6 percent have attended an organized protest.


To see the full report, download the .PDF