A new survey, released today by PR agency Waggener Edstrom Worldwide, shows that a strong majority (64%) of 18- to 35-year-olds are relying on digital communications to stay informed on this year's election because it provides the easiest way to access and share information. And in another blow for traditional media, the survey also finds that an overwhelming majority (76%) prefer online sources rather than traditional news sources because respondents feel the latter attempts to control and shape the news. The one bit of good news for traditional media: 38% of those responding to the survey have more confidence in its content; only 30% had more confidence in internet content.
"That is the death knell for traditional media among this demographic," said Derek LaVallee, VP-U.S. public affairs practice at Waggener Edstrom. "We're seeing a shift from that model of one message to many people to many messages to one person, and that's a huge paradigm shift we're just starting to pick up now."
The Waggener Edstrom Worldwide Young Internet Voter of 2008 Study polled 800 people -- 400 over the telephone and 400 online -- for the study. The majority (67%) of the people who took part were Gen Xers (26 to 35 years old) and the remaining were Millennials (18 to 25 years old).
Of those taking part, 37% identified themselves as Democrats and 27% Republican. Less than a quarter (23%) said they were independent. Eighty-four percent of the people polled said they are either very or somewhat closely following politics and this year's presidential election.
Mr. LaVallee said the poll clearly reveals that the Democrats have done a better job at utilizing the web to mobilize voters and potential voters.
When asked which political party seems to be doing the best job using the internet for campaigning based on everything "you've seen and heard," 56% chose the Democratic party, while only 13% chose Republican. Nearly half (49%) of the people polled said they would vote for Barack Obama if the election "were held today." Less than one third (29%) said they would vote for John McCain.
Larry Irving, a Waggener Edstrom global public affairs advisory council member and digital communications expert who assisted in the survey, believes the results are promising for both parties.
"The good news for Democrats is that they [have proved they] can connect with voters, and the good news for Republicans is that this isn't about party or candidate; it's about the tool," Mr. Irving said. "So the candidate who is good at using these tools will have better success at reaching these voters. These voters are going [online] to find information because they can shape the message they receive and that's the watershed."
A majority (60%) said they voted in this year's primary elections, and, looking ahead to November, nearly three quarters (73%) said they were "certain" they would vote on Election Day.
Mr. LaVallee said he is not sure if these people will "self-actualize" come Election Day but the results should concern Mr. McCain and the Republican Party.
"In this election the internet is for the Democratic Party what talk radio was for the Republican Party in the last 15 years," he said "And it's not that the message was more effective over the radio for the Republican Party; it's just that they found the audience at the right place and the right time. And the Democrats are doing the same thing this time around."
Nearly one quarter of survey participants (24%) have sent or received a text message about candidates. And 74% said they use the web to research a political candidate or issues relating to the upcoming elections.
Lance Tarrance, a polling/political expert who directed the survey for Waggener Edstrom, said it may be too soon to proclaim that a seismic shift will occur in this election because of young internet voters. "But this is evidence the world is changing," he said.
The study also revealed that the web and digital communications have helped bring teens and young adults into the fold this election cycle. Fifty-seven percent strongly or somewhat agree that the internet and digital media have made them feel more engaged in this year's election process than they have in the past.
Waggener Edstrom's Mr. LaVallee said people should remember the 1972 election and how people thought lowering the voting age would be the end of the Republican Party.
"This predicts how to reach these folks and what they might do if they come out to vote," he said. "But we have no idea what it means in terms of who they pull the lever for."