It is said that Franklin D. Roosevelt won the 1932 U.S. presidential election with the help of the radio, John F. Kennedy won the presidency by embracing Television and Barack Obama succeeded by virtue of the Internet. News media, which allows for political socialization, is one of the most potent tools in a politician’s hands. As Malcolm X explained: “The media is the most powerful entity on earth. They have power to make the innocent guilty and make the guilty innocent, and that’s the power. They control the minds of masses.” The question then is: Which kind of media has the capacity to control the “minds of masses” in Georgia? Which media is the most powerful tool in Georgian politicians’ hands and finally, who is the audience?
A nationwide study conducted from June-May, 2018 in Georgia found that television is still the most popular medium for receiving news in Georgia, with 89% of those over the age of 18 receiving their news from television. Still, three out of five respondents receive news content from the internet.
Graph 1. Which of the following sources do you use at least several times a week to get news and information about what is happening in Georgia? (%)
Choices of news source vary considerably based on location, education and age.
In Georgia, the level of internet access differs markedly depending on whether one lives in an urban and rural area. Overall, 67% of the Georgian population has internet access. However, in rural areas, only 53% of the population has access, and in urban areas -- 79%. It is therefore not surprising that 74% of the urban population relies on internet for their news, while only 52% do in rural areas. In addition, mobile phone penetration in Georgia is now close to universal, with 90% of the population possessing a cell phone. Of these, 58% has access to the internet through their mobile devices.
Preference of news sources also varies by education. Only 9% of the Georgian population with less than a secondary education receives news from newspapers or magazines, compared to 32% among those with a university or higher education. In addition, if only 49% of the population with less than a secondary education uses the internet as their source of information, 79% of Georgians with a university or higher education obtain their news from the internet.
Finally, preference of news sources also depends on age. As Graph 2 demonstrates, younger people are twice as likely to source news from the internet than older people. In fact, it is their top source for obtaining news content. This contrasts with older people, who are more likely to get their news from television and newspapers.
Since the internet is an important source for receiving information, especially for youth, it raises the question as to which social media is used most frequently. Overall in Georgia, Facebook is the most widely used social media, used by 86% of those connected to the internet. Followed is YouTube (70%) and Google (57%). Age is again one of the most important determinants in using social media. Nearly all (95%) of those between the ages of 18 and 44 years use Facebook, while the site is used by 69% of the older population (45+ years).
To summarize, television is a good tool to target the older population. Internet is a good tool to target younger people, urban areas and people with a higher education. Therefore, the internet opens up as a new, alternative platform for politicians to communicate with voters of known demographic characteristics.
Graph 2. Which of the following sources do you use at least several times a week to get news and information about what is happening in Georgia? (%)
Since Television media is quite pricey and not all can afford it, the emergence of internet media is changing the political landscape by bringing more political actors onto the political scene. More and more politicians can now reach out to the electorate while spending less money. As Pew research aptly notes: “In theory, digital technology allows leaders to engage in a new level of “conversation” with voters, transforming campaigning into something more dynamic, more of a dialogue, than it was in the 20th century.” This can apply to the Georgian context as well, allowing politicians to get their messages across to a wider audience, especially to younger people, more educated people and people living in urban areas.
However, to win elections, politicians need an in-depth understanding of the electorate and the kind of media they consume. It is obvious that in a few years, the internet will become accessible to nearly everyone. Still, not all those would be likely voters will be using the internet, especially those aged 70 years or over, but this segment of society is most important for winning elections, while the internet-addicted youth are rarely casting ballots.