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Demos - Social media now playing a hugely consequential role in UK politics

New study into how the Internet is influencing UK politics and political engagement from the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media at Demos think tank (CASM) shows social media is becoming an increasingly important source of political information, debate and interaction

Featuring an exclusive survey on digital politics, the report finds 20% of adult social media users think online platforms help them to express their views and to be heard and 23% think social media helps them to understand parties’ policy positions ahead of elections

26% of adult social media users said social media engagement made them more likely to vote.

A pioneering new exploration of the role of digital politics in the UK from the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media at Demos think tank (CASM) has found social media is now instrumental in connecting and mobilising people with politics – including the young and those who might otherwise not participate.

Against a backdrop of declining formal political membership, and historically low levels of trust in government, The Rise of Digital Politics demonstrates the extent to which social media is paving the way for new kinds of engagement in politics.

The report includes findings from an exclusive poll representative of social media users, conducted by Ipsos MORI at the height of the British General Election last year, which shows the enormous influence social media had in people’s political engagement. It found:

  • Half (51 per cent) of adult British social media users undertook some political activity on social media during the general election – more than the number who reported doing the same offline during the same election.
  • A large majority (72 per cent) of people who had used social media for political purposes reported that they felt more politically engaged, in one way or another, as a direct result.
  • People who used social media for political activity on social media said they were also more likely to act on their political convictions as a direct result of it – including almost 40 per cent who felt more likely to vote.

Social media was found to have a particularly important function in mobilising young people, who are traditionally the least likely to vote or to be attached to particular parties.

Overall, 15 per cent of the surveyed social media users said they only engaged in politics digitally, and 21 per cent who claimed to have no political interest themselves had still promoted political content on social media.

The Rise of Digital Politics sets out key principles for how social media can build a more politically engaged and empowered electorate, and a lively, healthy democracy. It calls on political leaders and MPs to see social media as a tool to enrich and strengthen our political system. In particular, the report recommends leaders and parties:

  • listen to the electorate and treat social media as a two-way street;
  • recognise new online groups and mobilisations, and the power they yield;
  • move from online discussions to something that can contribute towards the political decisions that are taken; and
  • be aware of the dangers of digital exclusion.

Commenting on the report, its author Carl Miller, Research Director at CASM at Demos said:

“A new opportunity has now opened to use social media not just to win political power, but to wield it better. Social media builds bridges between people and institutions, and at a scale and with an ease that has never before been possible. The potential of social media to open up political debate, re-engage people in the political process and allow new forms of contact between people and their elected representatives must be harnessed.”

Media and Interview Requests:

Please contact press@demos.co.uk or call 0207 367 4200.

 Notes to Editors:

Demos designed and commissioned an online poll by Ipsos MORI representative of British social media users aged 18–75, about 36 million people. Fieldwork took place midway through the last general election campaign, 17–23 April 2015. The 12 questions of the online poll asked 1,002 social media users about whether they had used social media to do things broadly related to politics and, if they had, the effects, if any, that it had on them; about other political activity they may have undertaken; and about what sense of involvement and participation they had had in the political process.

The full report is available to download here: demos.co.uk/project/the-rise-of-digital-politics

Demos is Britain’s leading cross-party think tank: an independent, educational charity, which produces original and innovative research. Visit: demos.co.uk

This independent research was supported by Facebook.

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