Facebook may help influence voting turnout

UNL student Katie Higgins surfs Facebook.

Story and photos by Laura Smith, NewsNetNebraska

Facebook is for more than status updates and finding friends online. According to a study in the September 2012 edition of Science Magazine, using online social networks to urge people to vote had a much stronger effect on their voting behavior than spamming people with information via television ads or phone calls.

In the 2010 election, James Fowler, a social scientist at the University of California in San Diego led the research study in which 60 million people received a Facebook message that encouraged them to vote. The message contained links to local polling stations, a clickable “I Voted” button and photos of randomly chosen friends on Facebook who had already clicked the “I Voted” button. The message, with friend pictures, generated an additional 282,000 votes over a separate message containing no friend’s pictures.

Future voting power of Facebook

Is Facebook a new way to get people to the polls? Darl Naumann, a Lincoln County Commissioner candidate believes so.

“One in 13 people in the world have a Facebook,” said Naumann. “When you have majority of the population on a certain site, then that effects interaction between people, and politics is a part of that interaction.”

With the ability to link articles on Facebook, Naumann believes friends can share their opinions more easily and generate discussions among friends.

Katie Higgins, a junior biology major at UNL, agrees with Naumann that it is easier to share ideas on Facebook.

“Social networking is an easy way to tell friends about political issues,” said Higgins. “Directly or indirectly you’ll see the articles and think about them at some point.”

According to a study by PEW Research center, 34 percent of the population gets their news online. Mary Rezac, a senior English and journalism major believes Facebook articles posted by friends help younger users stay informed about politics and other issues more so than watching T.V. does.

“I use Facebook over T.V. watching to be informed about issues,” Rezac said. “T.V. is just a lot of advertisements but Facebook has links to articles, which is better.”

Candidates and Facebook

UNL Political Science Professor Dona-Gene Mitchell

Dona-Gene Mitchell, a political science professor at UNL has been conducting a study looking at the Facebook and Twitter use by the U.S. Senate candidates in the 2010 election.

“Every candidate that we looked at had a Facebook page and a Twitter account,” said Mitchell. “The majority of them were middle-aged white guys who are smart candidates with smart campaigns that are utilizing new media forms to communicate to voters because they know young voters use these media outlets.”

Mitchell also believes that in the 2008 election the great volume of social media messages  encouraged more young voters to get out and vote.

Naumann created a Facebook page for his candidacy to network ideas and stay connected with potential voters, young and old.

“A candidate page isn’t necessarily a necessity, but should certainly be in the toolbox to use,” said Naumann. “If you are not connected socially, than you are missing out. I use my Facebook site everyday to flow concepts, share memes, comment on statuses, share links and network with the community.”

Republican candidate for Lincoln County Commissioner Roma Amundson also has a Facebook page to promote her candidacy this election.

“I do have a Facebook page, but I don’t spend a lot of time on it. I am much more a person who likes to meet with people face-to-face and to know who I am communicating with,” said Amundson.

A search on Facebook shows that U.S. Senate candidates Bob Kerrey and Deb Fischer both have campaign pages. Current President Barack Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney also have pages, which generated around 29 million likes per page, according to Facebook.

“Candidates should have Facebook pages to share about their campaign strategies and expose them to the public,” said Higgins.

Media funding of candidates

Looking forward, Facebook may become the main media tool to spread candidate’s ideas and to get their names known. But, traditional media sources like T.V. advertisements and broadcasts are still the bulk of the spending money in the media.

A media breakdown of President Obama’s spending in the 2008 election by Open Secrets recorded $244 million was spent on broadcast media and only $26 million was spent on social media like Facebook and Twitter.

“The bulk of campaign spending continues to go to traditional media outlets such as T.V. advertisements and flyers in the mail, so they (candidates) aren’t investing the bulk of their money into these new media technologies, they are using them, but the bulk of the funds still goes to traditional media outlets,” said Mitchell.

With this Facebook trend in place, the study predicts the use of social media such as Facebook to continue to increase the number of voters on election days. A similar study done by Fowler and his team has not been announced for the 2012 election according to comments made by Fowler in Science Magazine, but the results of the 2010 study are expected to catch the eye of future political campaign strategies.

“If I saw a “go vote” message on Facebook it would definitely enforce the fact that I should go and vote,” said Higgins.

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