How usage of Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites differs (or doesn’t) depending on the party
Democrats are more likely than Republicans to report their overall use of social media (77% and 68%, respectively), according to a new poll by the Pew Research Center of American adults conducted January 25 through February. 8, 2021. There are also notable differences in the proportions of Democrats and Republicans using certain platforms.
The majority of Americans on both sides of the political aisle say they use Facebook and YouTube. About seven in ten Democrats (72%) and Republicans (69%) – including independents who lean towards either party – say they ever use Facebook. And 85% of Democrats say they use YouTube, compared to a slightly smaller proportion of Republicans (79%).
However, several other websites and apps measured in this survey have major political party usage gaps. For example, about half of Democrats (49%) report on Instagram, 19 percentage points more than Republicans who say the same thing (30%). Democrats also have a probability of around 10 points or more than Republicans that they ever use Twitter, WhatsApp, LinkedIn or Reddit.
To better understand Americans’ use of social media, online platforms, and messaging apps, the Pew Research Center surveyed 1,502 adults in the United States via cell phones and landlines from January 25 to February 8, 2021. The survey was conducted by interviewers led by Abt Associates and is weighted as representative of the adult US population by gender, race, ethnicity, education, and other categories. Here are the questions that were used for this report, along with the answers and methodology.
These patterns have been largely consistent across recent surveys. For example, in surveys conducted by the center in 2019 and 2018, use of Instagram, Twitter, WhatsApp, LinkedIn and Reddit was more common among Democrats than Republicans. However, while similar proportions of Democrats and Republicans are now reporting on Facebook, it didn’t, which was the case in 2018, when Democrats were more likely to do so (74% versus 63%).
While overall social media use is fairly widespread in the U.S. today, Americans from both political parties hold negative views about the power, influence, and politics of social media companies, previous polls by the center showed. Social media sites have also become a hotbed for controversial debate and harassment.
Nonetheless, other polls by the center show that some Americans find these sites attractive for getting political news and showing their support for causes. And some social media users have changed their views on political or social issues because they saw something on social media over the past year. In addition, majorities in both parties say that social media is at least somewhat effective in influencing political decisions or getting elected officials to pay attention to an issue.
As with previous research by the Center on the subject, age is strongly correlated with social media use: American adults under 50 are more likely than their older counterparts to report using these sites altogether. At the same time, younger generations tend to be more democratic than older ones. But differences in age in social media use and party affiliation don’t fully explain why Democrats are more likely than Republicans to use some platforms. In fact, even among younger Americans, Democrats are more likely than their Republican counterparts to report using seven of the 11 websites asked about in the new poll.
This is especially true for Instagram: about two-thirds of 18- to 49-year-old Democrats (68%) say they use the platform, compared to 45% of Republicans in the same age group, a 23 percentage point difference. Adults under 50 are 17 points more likely that Democrats will report on Twitter than Republicans (43% versus 26%).
Democrats between the ages of 18 and 49 are again more likely than Republicans in the same age group to contact WhatsApp, LinkedIn or Reddit. They are also more likely than their GOP counterparts to say they use TikTok or YouTube, albeit with lower margins.
Among adults over 50, Democrats use Instagram (28% vs. 15%), WhatsApp (23% vs. 11%), Twitter (18% vs. 9%) or Snapchat (10% vs. 5%) more often. But there are no partisan differences in older adults’ use of other platforms, including LinkedIn, Reddit, TikTok, Pinterest, YouTube, Facebook, and Nextdoor.
White adults also use social media differently depending on the party
Aside from partisan differences in social media use within different age groups, there are also notable partisan differences between white adults. (There weren’t enough Black, Hispanic, or Asian respondents in the sample to analyze results for each group by party.)
White Democrats are 18 percentage points more likely than White Republicans to ever use Instagram or Twitter. They also state a probability of 10 or more points that they will ever use LinkedIn, Reddit, or WhatsApp. While the differences aren’t that big, White Democrats are more likely than White Republicans to say they also use Nextdoor and YouTube.
While there are partisan differences in Snapchat usage overall and within each age group, this loophole doesn’t appear when you look at White Republicans and Democrats. Additionally, similar proportions of both White Democrats and Republicans use TikTok, Facebook, and Pinterest.
Note: Here are the questions used for this report along with the answers and methodology.
Emily A. Vogels is a research fellow with a focus on internet and technology at the Pew Research Center. Brooke Auxier is a former research fellow with a focus on internet and technology at the Pew Research Center.
Monica Anderson is the Associate Director of Research at the Pew Research Center.