The Digital Leap, Social Media, and Why Pundits Get it Wrong on Minority Vote

We already know that the President is running up unprecedented amounts of support among minority voters, particularly Hispanics. But I have been told not to bother with the minority vote, since they never come out to vote (evidently neither the 2008 national election nor the 2010 Senate election in Nevada actually took place). There are a lot of ways to gauge minority voter participation this year - the President's extraordinarily high approval among minorities, his push for and action on immigration, the Republicans' stern anti-immigrant, intolerant posture, etc. But I want to present a tangible reason to pay attention to the minority - especially the Latino - vote this year: technology; specifically smartphones. This may be a whole new ballgame from the one pundits are used to.

When the Internet became commonplace, the digital divide in home Internet indicated some time ago ethnic minorities suffering from an access gap. Here's what's changing that: smartphones. We are now experiencing a digital leap - in which the tables are turned and minorities are more likely to own smartphones than are whites. Nielson's Mobile Inside Study gives us a look into the picture:
Source: Nielson Mobile Insights Study, 2012, as Reported in Slate Magazine.

All of these numbers are significantly higher than even just a year ago. Hispanics - the group we are being told will never come out to vote - have the second highest rate of smartphone adoption, and every ethnic minority group holds an advantage over whites in this regard. Why is this important? Because as everything has gone mobile and online, so have campaigns. Think about the groups most using smartphones: young people and people of color - President Obama's most enthusiastic supporters. Nearly half of Americans between 18-29 use the mobile internet more than they use the desktop to go online. On top of this, engagement from users of mobile devices far surpasses engagement from desktop users of the web, specifically social networks. According to a study released earlier this year:
- 91% of mobile phone users go online to socialize compared to only 79% of traditional desktop users.

- Mobile phone users are 1.6 times more likely to manage finances compared to traditional desktop users (62% versus 39%).

- Mobile phone users are 1.4 times more likely than traditional desktop users to rally support for a cause (67% versus 47%).
Hmm... rally support for a cause. I wonder what that looks like on the social media, which is driving much of this mobile revolution, and vice versa. Let's look at the engagement for both Romney and Obama on the three top social media sites: Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus (all screenshots taken 10/24/2012, around 9:45 am Pacific)



So why is it important that Barack Obama is beating the pants off of Mitt Romney when it comes to social network following, and how does that relate to the minority vote? It should be more than a little obvious. Let's put 2 and 2 together: social media is bursting on the mobile web - the same mobile web that minorities and young people are not just faster at adopting than anyone else but are more likely to use to engage in actions.

It's not just that, either. Smartphone users are far more self-motivated to find their topics of interest - in this case, voting - and have a different way of finding facts than sitting in front of a 24 hour cable news channel. They - we - are not a captive of the traditional media, or even the traditional media website. This population is far more social media savvy, and tech savvy enough to seek out news sources for things they are interested in. Information is about more than gathering to this group of people, it's about acting.

And we know which candidate is paying attention to this new trend - new, but now mature enough to the point I believe capable of making a difference in voting. When President Obama visited Reddit on August 31 to answer questions from users, the site broke all traffic records. Mr. Romney's bloopers in the debates (from big bird to horses and bayonets) were all immortalized by people on Twitter and Facebook - more often than not live-fact-checking and spreading the message using a smartphone.

Last but not least, let's connect this to polling. The group of people that have their social, economic, and political world not just connected but action-ized on their smartphones are not terribly likely to talk to pollsters on the phone. Not just because it will cut away from their minutes, but also because they more than likely have better things to do. Like, you know, actually vote. When polling analysts were telling us that Sharron Angle would win the Senate race in Nevada in 2010 by about 3 points, it turned out that they were severely underestimating the Latino vote, which turned the election into a 5-point win for Sen. Harry Reid instead. Is it a mere coincidence that Latinos are more likely to own a smartphone and less likely to be counted? I think not.

I was sitting there listening to pundits - curiously, all old white men - opining the other day that the social media pushback that Mitt Romney has faced didn't - and won't - matter much. I think that you dismiss the importance of mobile and the social media at your own peril come November 6. We'll see who's right. For now, I will just remind our pundits that the Arab Spring was brought to us by young people armed with mobile devices connected to social networks.