US election highlights emerging 'dual-screen' media culture

Pew Research study finds internet gains as a source of election news and information; one out of ten presidential debate viewers followed the exchanges live via a second screen.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

Welcome to the age of the dual-screen election. Along with the usual partisan spinning, there was another dynamic emerging with the recent US presidential debates -- a study by Pew Research, conducted right after the first debate, found that one out of 10 viewers who watched the live debate also followed what was being said on social networks and websites via their computer or mobile device.

In essence, the study of 1,006 US adults found, the "dual-screen" media culture is now a substantive part of this year's election campaigns. The trend is even more pronounced among the under-40 set -- 22% said they followed the debates both on live TV and online.

The snarky comments posted in the Twitter stream during the debates not only made for an entertaining backdrop, but also provides a sense of a national conversation reacting to and commenting on the candidates' positions and gaffes.

More than ever before, 2012 is proving to be the first full-fledged dual-screen election. A separate Pew Research  survey of 1,005 adults finds that Americans are following the presidential campaign more closely on nearly every news platform than they were earlier in the year, including print newspapers. The biggest gains have come on the internet-both to the websites of traditional news sources and those native to the web.

Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are growing especially rapidly as a source of political news. The number of Americans who say they regularly go to these destinations to learn about the campaign has doubled since January. Even with that jump, however, these leading social media platforms are still turned to by a relatively limited number of Americans, about 17% in all, when those who mentioned at least one of those platforms are combined.

Social TV is changing the way we consume news and information for all aspects of life, from business to entertainment. Not too long ago, consumers had one screen in front of them at a time, and it was either a PC, or a standard television set. Now, consumers are surrounded by a “swarm of devices” that are increasingly interacting and overlapping one another. Lately, tablets have been the device of choice serving as the second screen of choice, and the race is on to capture big pieces of this vast new real estate.

When Pew Research asked respondents which sources of campaign news had been "most useful," nearly half  named television in one of its various forms. Cable news was first on that list, named as the most useful source by 24%; a little more than a quarter volunteered various forms of the internet, while a third as many named local or national newspapers (8%) or radio (6%).

As Pew Research sums it up:

"The numbers portray a diverse landscape in which no platform dominates as the place for politics, and the vast majority of Americans say they regularly rely on multiple platforms to get political information. Just 6% said they turn regularly to just one platform.... With such a complex network of platforms and sources to choose from, the nuance of how and when people seek out different places for information about the election becomes much more difficult to understand. The concept of a primary source of news-a gatekeeper that provides most of what a voter might know-seems obsolete."

Cable news channels continue to have the furthest reach, but a number of other destinations are close. Currently, 41% of Americans say they regularly learn about the candidates or the campaign from cable news networks, up five percentage points from 36% during the primaries. But local TV news is almost as popular as a means for learning about the campaign; 38% of Americans regularly use it to learn about the candidates and the election, up six points since the primaries.

That is now nearly matched by the internet, which has seen an increase of 11 points in the number of Americans who say they regularly turn to it for campaign news since the year began. Fully 36% of Americans say they regularly get election news there, up from 25% in January.

The survey probed into where on the internet people go for campaign news on a regular basis.  More said they turn to the websites or apps of traditional news organizations than to online-only sites or apps (28% of Americans who are online versus 19%).

And while social media, which draws on many sources for the information, remains relatively small, it is growing rapidly as a means for getting political news. Currently, 12% of those online say they regularly use Facebook to get campaign news, more than double the 6% who said so in January. That number represents 21% of those who use social networks.

YouTube is a regular source for campaign news for 7% of Americans, also more than double the 3% who said so in January, when the campaign involved primaries just in the GOP.

Twitter has also doubled to 4%, but remains the smallest of the three main social media formats. But when those on Twitter are asked about whether they use the platform for campaign news, the numbers become much larger. Fully 25% of those on Twitter use it regularly for campaign news. In January, 17% of those on Twitter used it regularly for political information.

(Thumbnail photo: Joe McKendrick.)

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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