According to a new survey from the Pew Internet & American Life Project, almost a quarter of all U.S. adults (24%) received most of their news about the 2010 elections from the Internet, which was up over threefold since 2002 and up 9% since the last midterm election in 2006.
However, television still dominated, with two-thirds (67%) of survey respondents indicating that they got their campaign/election coverage from that medium. That was down only slightly from the 69% figure in 2006, or, statistically speaking, essentially no change at all (the margin of error is in the 2.4-2.8% range).
Newspapers also remained ahead of the Internet, with 27% saying that was where they get most of their election news. That was down from 34% in 2006. Newspapers also now rank behind online news sources among the under-50 crowd, according to the study.
If, as they say, all politics is local, then the most popular source of coverage is as well. The study found that "local news programming" was the top source of TV news at 33%. The study did not break that out between local broadcast news and regional news channels like a News Channel 8 in Washington.
The next biggest source was Fox News Channel at 26%, up from 21% in 2006; NBC Network News at 12%, albeit down from 17% in 2006. CNN followed at 14%, but was off from 17% in 2006. After that it was ABC Network News at 10%, down from 5%; CBS Network News at 9%, down from 13%, MSNBC at 5%, down from 6%; and CNBC at 2%, down from 3%.
But Fox News, CNN and MSNBC are also major players in the online space, according to the Pew study. CNN.com was the main source of online political news at 22%, followed by Yahoo at 20%, Google at 13% and Fox News at 10%. MSNBC was the main source for 7% of respondents. According to Pew, Republicans, Tea Party supporters and conservatives were more likely to watch Fox, while Democrats, liberals and those not supporting the Tea Party were more likely to watch CNN, MSNBC or the network newscasts.
The increased use of online for campaign info is a double-edged sword. While 61% of the respondents indicated it exposes people to a wider range of political views than traditional media, 56% believe it is "usually difficult" for them to tell what online information is true and what is not.
Could that be because of the absence of that trusted traditional media editorial function, despite the fact that veteran media outlet CNN is the most-visited single site? The report's author, Pew Internet senior research specialist Aaron Smith, sees it more as respondents being worried about effects on others that they don't see on themselves. "Generally when we ask these types of questions, we see people responding very positively to the Internet's benefits to them personally while expressing concern for the Internet's impacts on other people or society in general," he said. "They say it makes it easier for me to connect with other people and expose me to a wider range of traditional viewpoints, but I worry that other people are being exposed to extreme comments or misinformation."
But there could be some of that lack of trusted moderator. He pointed out that while CNN is listed at the top, the single biggest category was the "long tail" of 29% who picked the "somewhere else" category.
And while 54% of said the 'net makes it easier to connect with others who share their political views, 55% said it also increases the influence of those with extreme views. Maybe that answer could be a key to the one about determining the truth online? "Absolutely," says Smith. "Increasing the influence of people with extreme viewpoints, I would expect that regardless of your political affiliation you are probably thinking about 'the other guys' when you are answering that question.
The report was based on a daily tracking (phone) poll of Internet use, It was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International from November 3-24, 2010, among a sample of 2,257 adults, age 18 and older.