This just in from Pew Research: more than a quarter of adults used their cell phones to either participate in or learn more about the most recent midterm elections. A couple of interesting gems were among the data, for example:
- According to Pew, 82 percent of American adults have cell phones. That means 18 percent do not have a cell phone. I’m curious who that 18 percent is ... the only ones I can guess would be those in nursing homes, long-term hospitalization, or jails. (Perhaps they’re the same percentage of people who actually approve of the job performance of Congress.) I know adults who won’t use voicemail, or who won’t send or receive emails, but every adult I know has a cell phone. So 82 percent seems low to me.
- 71 percent of cell owners said they voted in the 2010 election, compared with 64 percent of the general population who say they voted. (Actual turnout was about 40 percent, and Pew says it’s common for more people to say they voted than actually voted.) Pew’s name for these cell-phone-using voters is “the mobile political population.” The more connected people are--the more “mobile political users” there are--the higher turnout will be, and the stronger our democracy will be.
- This population used their cell phones to tell others they had voted, to keep up with news about the election, to check on conditions at their polling place on Election Day, and to monitor election results. A few even downloaded campaign-related apps or donated money. I believe that within our lifetimes we’ll see voters casting secure ballots from their mobile phones. If we can have secure on-line banking, why can’t we have secure online voting? [Read more about the 2010 elections.]
- There was a lot of coverage earlier this year about polls that skewed Democratic or Republican based on whether the pollsters were calling landlines or cell phones. Yet according to this survey, “There was no partisan tilt in the makeup of the mobile political user population. They split their votes equally between Democratic and Republican congressional candidates--44 percent to each.” Both parties should see this as an opportunity to connect with more voters, reaching out to them where they are--with useful, informative apps or text alerts about conditions on Election Day--rather than waiting for voters to come to them.
This year we saw an extraordinarily engaged electorate, hungry for information and concerned about the direction of our country. Whether the debate was on "don’t ask, don’t tell," deficit reduction, healthcare reform, or intrusive TSA patdowns, everyone had an opinion—and I suspect that our ability to get information and communicate with others digitally probably had a lot to do with it. “That government is the strongest of which every man feels himself a part,” Thomas Jefferson wrote to a friend in 1807, via snail mail. In just 72 characters, he recognized that participation is the key to our democracy. Too bad he wasn’t able to Tweet it from his cell phone. [See a roundup of editorial cartoons about 'don't ask, don't tell.]