Popular political Twitter accounts frequently use the refrain “Twitter is not real life,” and data from a recent CBS News poll backs that up with just 29% of respondents saying they use Twitter to follow the campaign.
But as one communications professor put it, Twitter plays an “outsized role” in politics today as many politicians and news organizations engage on the platform regularly.
According to the recent CBS News Battleground Tracker poll, just 14% of that 29% who use Twitter said they use it a lot. Half of voters say they use other social media sites like Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram to follow the race.
Of those who do use Twitter to follow the election, they tend to be younger and more of them say they are voting for Joe Biden.
Twitter users only make up a small portion of the population. According to the company’s latest earnings report, the platform said it had 36 million daily active users in the U.S. During the second quarter of 2020. That’s only about 9% of the entire country.
However, Twitter is a crucial part of the daily routine for most public officials and for journalists.
“Twitter plays an outsized role in U.S. Politics and U.S. Political media,” said Shannon McGregor, an assistant professor of communication at the Hussman School of Journalism and Media at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
“Just the platform itself and the fact that it is such an insular bubble of political users and news media users, it can be sort of a self-reinforcing loop in terms of limiting the range of perspectives, potentially that journalists or political actors are exposed to and reinforcing those, I would say, polarizing ideas,” McGregor said.
When it comes to actually posting about candidates, only 35% of registered voters say they share information on any online platform, including Twitter and Facebook. That breakdown is about the same no matter which major party candidate they’re voting for.
About half (49%) of people who do post about their candidate say they use Twitter to follow the campaign at least some of the time, while more than three quarters (77%) use Facebook or other social media platforms.
When broken down by ideology, those who post tend to be more extreme in their views. People who identified as very liberal or very conservative were more likely to post about their candidate.
All of this tracks with what we’re seeing in key states like Florida and Texas, where about a third of voters use Twitter to follow the election and those people tend to be younger.
“It’s not as if that huge percentage of people not using Twitter means Twitter isn’t important in the election,” McGregor said, “It’s probably more important than it should be because of who is on it, even if it’s not a majority of registered voters.”