Researchers have long known that political engagement among young people increases with socioeconomic status—the more privileged the person, the more likely they are to participate in civic matters. But is there another force more powerful than money when it comes to getting young people to engage with the political process? A new study suggests that there is: social media. Young people of any economic background who used social media were more likely to be politically engaged than those who did not.
Michael Xenos of the University of Wisconsin, Ariadne Vromen of the University of Sydney, and Brian D. Loader of the University of York studied political engagement among young people in the United States, Australia and Great Britain. They surveyed a representative sample of people aged 16 to 29 in each country, asking about social media use and acts of civic and political engagement. (They did not ask about voting.) In their study published in Information, Communication & Society, they write, “We find a strong, significant, and robust positive relationship between social media use and political engagement.”
They also write, “Stated plainly, our results suggest that if one were seeking an efficient single indicator of political engagement among young people in the countries studied here, social media use would appear to be as good as, or better than, SES [socioeconomic status].” So watch out—those teenagers using Snapchat and Instagram today might fuel a new wave of political engagement tomorrow.