News for Digital Journalists

December 28, 2010

Political/election news should go mobile, Pew research indicates

More than one in four US adults used cell phones to participate in some election-related activity during the November 2010 elections, according to the new Politics Goes Mobile report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

This research suggests some important implications for a news organization’s strategy for political and election coverage…

According to Pew, the most popular election-related mobile activities reported were:

  • 14% of all US adults used cell phones to tell others that they voted.
  • 12% used mobile phones to keep up with election or political news.
  • 10% sent text messages related to the election.

What’s striking is that none of these top activities   requires a smartphone. Text messaging, simple web browsing, e-mail, and social media are among the many communication channels available to users of “feature phones”—the less-expensive, simpler phones which lack the ability to run native apps or access wireless broadband networks.

According to Pew, only 1% of US adults used an election-related smartphone app that provided updates from candidates, parties, or groups. Undoubtedly, some of that 12% who kept up with political/election news via mobile were doing this through news apps for smartphones. (Pew did not specifically inquire about news apps in this survey.) But most mobile phones these days can access news through other channels.

Over 75% of US mobile users still rely on feature phones—and while smartphones are getting more popular, feature phones are likely to remain the majority in any mobile news audience for at least the next few years. Why? Feature phones cost far less to buy and use. They’re easily available on flat-rate, unlimited month-to-month plans (or even prepaid plans). And most models can do much more than just voice calls, texting, and photos.

Pew’s research indicates that the mobile audience for political and election news is substantial, so it’s worth having a mobile strategy for this coverage. Consider options such as:

  • Opt-in, customizable text alert services for political or election news updates.
  • Mobile-friendly (and mobile-searchable) web-based quick guides for candidates, issues, election processes, polling places, etc.
  • Promoting political and election coverage via social media.
  • Inviting crowdsourced reporting from polling places (text, audio reports, photos, social media); and promoting/distributing this via traditional and digital channels.

All of these options can reach a larger potential audience than app-focused mobile strategies, and require less expense and effort to develop.


10% sent text messages related to the election.

Page 1 of 1 pages

Commenting is not available in this section entry.