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Today, everything is going digital, so it's no surprise that voter engagement with political figures is moving to online environments. Going forward, political marketers have to decide how to effectively target different sectors of the voting community through online advertising and traditional media. The question of the moment is do online research and digital marketing drive voter perceptions and decisions about candidates?
Voting Information Vs. Intent
According to Shopper Sciences, voters are using a wide range of media for self-directed research on candidates and key issues, but they approach these learning moments with conditioned skepticism. On average, candidates use about 14.7 sources for research, engaging most often with newspaper articles, TV ads, direct mail and magazine articles. Yet, a higher amount of exposure doesn't equal greater influence.
For example, 81 percent of voters watch TV ads and 73 percent receive direct mail from political candidates, but the majority of voters view these sources as a "necessary evil." Survey respondents felt turned off by the negative experience of aggressive marketing and were reluctant to base their decisions solely on these types of media. On the other hand, fewer voters engage with online media, but these digital sources are often more acceptable and influential in the decision-making process. Approximately 50 percent of voters read candidate endorsements online, 45 percent read comments after opinion pieces and articles, and 45 percent visit candidate websites.
Despite preconceptions about certain types of media, voters are stilled motivated to act by a diverse mixture of sources. In the survey, participants were most influenced by comparing candidates online (50 percent), watching shows featuring candidates (49 percent), and discussing candidates with friends or family (42 percent).
The major difference between traditional and online media is that many voters use the former to gather preliminary information, while they seek out the latter to formulate opinions in moments of intent. The most common reason voters look for online information is to compare political platforms, learn more about candidates and read opinionated content from friends. They also use digital media to find places to vote or attend campaign events, actions that bring voters closer to a final decision at the polls.
Generational Differences Affect Behavior
Unsurprisingly, engagement with online media is also linked to age. On average, voters between 18 and 34 used 20.2 sources of research, compared to 14.6 sources among voters between 35 and 49. Older voters were more likely to be influenced in the early stages of gathering information, while younger voters need repeated engagement with multiple sources to finalize their decisions.
For marketers hoping to win audiences in election years, a well-planned timeline is key. The average voter starts performing research two to six months in advance, providing countless opportunities for candidates, organizations and brands to influence their opinions.