One-third of people under 40 used the Internet to follow the presidential debate

Pew Research Center

Presidential debate watching is still primarily a television event, but many Americans are also using digital devices simultaneously to get more information or reaction, according to a new Pew poll released Thursday.

The poll focused on which media Americans used during the first presidential debate. It finds 32 percent of people under 40 used digital devices while watching the debate and the same number followed public reaction live online.

A majority (51 percent) of people under 40 got at least some coverage online or through social media.

This phenomenon creates a huge demand for news organizations to provide live second-screen coverage. The Washington Post tells me its Politics app for the iPad saw a 44 percent jump in visits the night of the first debate, and a 600 percent increase in usage of its Forum section that tracks political players on Twitter.

Our new Settle It! fact-checking app from PolitiFact had a huge surge as well, seeing more users the day of the debate than during the whole Democratic or Republican convention.

A separate Pew Internet and American Life poll just found that 27 percent of voters with cell phones are using them to follow the election, and 35 percent have used their phone for fact-checking.

Some other interesting data points from today's Pew study:

  • Among all age groups, 14 percent of viewers used a computer or mobile device to watch the debate, and 15 percent followed public reaction live online.
  • "Dual screeners" dominated the digital watchers -- 11 percent watched with both TV and a digital device, while 3 percent watched online only.
  • More lurkers than posters. Of all those who followed live reaction online, a third shared their own reactions.
  • After the debate, 70 percent of Americans watched coverage on TV, more than twice as many as used other sources like newspapers, radio, websites or social media.

Related: Five things we’re watching for in tonight’s Vice Presidential debate | Before Thursday’s vice-presidential debate, a call for more journalist self-disclosure.

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    Jeff Sonderman

    Jeff Sonderman is the deputy director of the American Press Institute, helping to lead its use of research, tools, events, and strategic insights to advance and sustain journalism.


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