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What the Latest Pew Numbers Mean

According to Pew Internet and American Life Project, an initiative launched to “explore the impact of the Internet” on civic and political participation, the number of Americans of voting age who watched political videos online during the primaries (by May 11) nearly tripled from 2004 (35% in ’08 vs. 13% in ’04). And more people are using social networking sites for participating in campaigns (10%) than are contributing money to them (6%). Translating that to real numbers, in 2004, roughly 21 Million people were obtaining news and campaign information online (the most prominent online activity related to campaigns). According to Pew, that number has probably doubled for 2008.

As I mentioned Monday, Pew released their latest survey results Sunday, having interviewed 2,251 Americans of voting age. 1,553 of those surveyed are online in some form – email, web, text messaging, etc.. That’s nearly three out of every four American adults, up from two out of every four in 2000. The results produced some interesting stats, but the big number gaining attention is that almost half of Americans (46%) have used online technologies (via the Internet or cell phone) to participate in political activity during the 2008 campaign to date.

Ben Adler from Politico.com asks the question of the hour: “Can McCain compete with Obama online?” It’s no secret. As ABC News noted, “the survey finds Sen. Barack Obama is winning the online political war in 2008.” This data just confirms what we already know. Democrats are winning online. That doesn’t necessarily translate to votes, but times are a-changin.

We still have a long way to go in terms of convincing the American public of the Internet’s legitimacy in the process, however. Approximately 60% of Americans believe that “the Internet is full of misinformation and propaganda that too many voters believe is accurate.” With new media and citizen journalism abounding next door to unsubstantiated rumor sites, it’s no wonder the public is skeptical. But it’s just a matter of time…

Meanwhile, if we extrapolate the numbers Pew just released, the majority of Americans of voting age will be turning to the Internet and online technologies in their process of determining who to cast their ballots for in 2012 – if not by 2010. It’s even possible we could achieve a majority before this November, and we know what that means.