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UCSD Study Shows Facebook Contributed to Voter Turnout

Individuals who received a “get out the vote” message were more likely to look for a polling place, according to a new study.

A new study shows peer pressure can help get the vote out.

The study, released by the university on Wednesday, shows more than 60 million people on Facebook saw a social, non-partisan “get out the vote” message at the top of their news feeds on Nov. 2, 2010. Users who had received the social message were more likely than the others both to look for a polling place and to click on the “I Voted” button, according to the university.

“Voter turnout is incredibly important to the democratic process. Without voters, there’s no democracy,” said lead author and UCSD political science professor James Fowler. “Our study suggests that social influence may be the best way to increase voter turnout. Just as importantly, we show that what happens online matters a lot for the ‘real world.’”

The study also estimates that the direct effect of the Facebook social message on users who saw it generated an additional 60,000 votes in 2010. However, the effects of social network—essentially, the interaction and influence among friends—yielded another 280,000 more votes.

“If you only look at the people you target, you miss the whole story,” Fowler said. “Behaviors changed not only because people were directly affected, but also because their friends and friends of friends were affected.”

The study did not find any evidence of differences in effects among self-described liberals and conservatives. Research is now continuing on what kinds of messages work best for increasing voter participation and what kinds of people are most influential in the process.

Read the full study here.

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