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Mobile Technology in Politics More Potential Than Reality

Mobile Technology in Politics More Potential Than Reality

This article is part of a weeklong series analyzing how mobile technology is affecting politics, business, and well-being.

PRINCETON, NJ -- Although most Americans now own mobile communication devices or otherwise have access to the Internet, no more than 23% have used them for a variety of political interactions. These results suggest that the potential use of mobile communication for connecting voters and potential voters to politics has yet to be fully realized.

Political Connection via Mobile Devices

These results are from an April 1-2 Gallup poll assessing how mobile technology has affected Americans' political and election involvement.

The poll finds that about seven in 10 Americans use either a smartphone or a tablet, and that overall 83% are connected to the Internet through a phone, tablet, or personal computer. The use of these new mobile communication devices, and more generally the use of the Internet, have dramatically affected most aspects of Americans' lives -- and politics, in theory, should be no exception. Political candidates, political parties, and those advising and running election campaigns have most certainly become aware that mobile devices represent a new frontier of political contact above and beyond the traditional use of media advertisements, phone calls, and direct mail.

Still, at this point, the majority of Americans have yet to be affected by the use of mobile technology for political purposes. Between 20% and 23% of those interviewed report receiving electronic communication from political interest groups, using social media to share political opinions posted by someone else, receiving electronic requests to contact elected representatives on behalf of a cause, or receiving direct electronic communications from elected officials or from political parties. Slightly fewer, 16%, say they post their own political opinions directly on social media. Less than 10% say they have received instant communication about an incipient or ongoing political rally or political protest or made a monetary donation using a smartphone or tablet.

Political Differences

The presidential campaign of Barack Obama in 2012 was widely reported to have successfully taken advantage of new technology both in terms of "big data" collection of voter information, and in terms of repeated contact with voters using both traditional and new electronic modes of communication. That technological advantage continues to be evident to some degree today, more than two years later. Democrats nationwide are modestly more likely than Republicans to report receiving political messages from either political parties or political advocacy groups in the last 30 days. Also, Democrats are four times as likely as Republicans to say they have donated to a campaign using a smartphone or tablet -- although at 8% and 2%, respectively, these rates are still quite small. Republicans are slightly more likely to report sharing or "liking" posts or links that represent their opinions.

As would be expected, independents are less likely than either partisan group to report receiving political communication through their electronic devices.

None of the partisan differences seen here are especially large -- suggesting that Republicans could potentially close the "mobile communication" gap by 2016, although whether they can do so for the 2014 midterm cycle is unclear.

Political Connection via Mobile Devices, by Partisanship

Younger Americans More Likely to Be Politically Connected via Social Media

Young Americans are more likely than those who are older to engage in the two political activities involving social media -- sharing or retweeting posts or links, and posting opinions on social media and other Internet sites. Otherwise, there is little difference by age in participation in the other political activities.

Republicans Slightly More Likely to Use Mobile Devices

Republicans are slightly more likely than Democrats to report using a smartphone or tablet on a daily basis. Still, despite this disparity in overall use, Democrats are as likely as Republicans to be heavy users of mobile devices (4+ hours per day). Apparently, the advantage Democrats may have in this regard among younger Americans, who are among the heaviest users of mobile technology, is somewhat offset by the greater use among those with higher incomes, who tend to be Republican. Overall, the data underscore the conclusion that there are not major partisan-based differences in the ability to reach voters and potential voters using mobile devices.

Hours Spent Using Smartphones and Tablets

Bottom Line

This is a midterm election year, and political activity has picked up in a number of states with early primaries and high-profile Senate and gubernatorial elections. This activity is certainly not at the level of where it will be in the fall, or in particular of where it will be in 2016, a presidential election year. Therefore, the current measures of political activity using mobile devices as of early April -- with a little more than four in 10 having had one of eight possible types of political contact -- most likely represent a floor or minimum level. Given the high penetration of these devices in the American population in general, the potential is there for a significantly increased use later this year and in future elections. Democrats have a slight advantage in terms of ongoing contact with potential voters at this point, but both parties will no doubt be actively working to increase their advantage in the months and years ahead.

Read a related article at Gallup Business Journal.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted April 1-2, 2014, on the Gallup Daily tracking survey, with a random sample of 1,017 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

For results based on the total sample of 661 smartphone or tablet users, the margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted to correct for unequal selection probability, nonresponse, and double coverage of landline and cell users in the two sampling frames. They are also weighted to match the national demographics of gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, population density, and phone status (cellphone only/landline only/both, and cellphone mostly). Demographic weighting targets are based on the most recent Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. population. Phone status targets are based on the most recent National Health Interview Survey. Population density targets are based on the most recent U.S. census. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

View survey methodology, complete question responses, and trends.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit

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