In our last blog post on the relationship between social media use, politics and race/ethnicity, we noted that a closer look at data provided by Pew suggested that both Blacks and Hispanics/Latinos were more likely to use social media channels for political information and news.

In order to see if there were any spillover effects into “offline” political behavior, we took peek at another Pew dataset from August 2012 (Smith, 2013). We looked at respondents who reported using the internet for social networking, crosstabbed by race/ethnicity for a number of reported political activities.

We found that despite what prior data suggested from the other Pew survey, racial/ethnic minorities who use social media were less engaged in several offline political activities compared to white counterparts:

  • White social media users had a modestly higher rate of voter registration over Black respondents, and significantly higher that Hispanics/Latinos


  • White and Black social media users were equally likely to attend a political rally or speech in the prior year, and almost twice as likely as Hispanic/Latino respondents



  • Twice as many White social media users – compared to Blacks and Hispanic/Latinos — reported belonging to a group, excluding political parties, that tries to influence public policy or government



  • Finally, White social media users were significantly more likely to report contacting a national, state, or local government official in person, via email or by phone over an important issue in the prior year, compared to minority social media respondents.



There is a discrepancy between prior findings of higher rates of using social media for political information and discussion by racial and ethnic minorities, with present data suggesting that White social media users are overall more likely to engage in political activities offline.  This gap is especially large between Whites (non-Hispanic) and Latinos/Hispanics, the latter being ever more important in the political landscapes of states like Texas.

As political and public affairs operatives continue to develop messaging strategies to reach minority communities, this data suggests they should not assume that online political behavior necessarily translates to offline engagement.  Closing the gap between online and offline political and public affairs worlds will continue to present a major challenge as online technologies continue to reach underrepresented populations and offer greater connectedness on issues that people care the most about.