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Illustration by Michelle Budge, Deseret News

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Politics is actually a lot more moderate than social media makes it seem

Those on the furthest ends of the political spectrum are the most likely to post about political or social issues, according to Pew Research Center

If politics ever seems a bit extreme online, it’s not just you.

Social media is skewed to the furthest ends of the political spectrum, according to new Pew Research Center polling, with the most conservative and liberal users more likely to post about politics online than moderates.

Pew classified U.S. adults into nine political typologies and found that Americans on the furthest ends of their spectrum, the “Progressive Left” and “Faith and Flag Conservatives,” were the most likely to show support for a political campaign or candidate on social media. Those more in the middle — the “Stressed Sideliners,” “Ambivalent Right” and “Outsider Left” — were less likely to do so.

The findings matched other Pew polling showing those on the ends are more likely to have voted, donated to a candidate or political group or attend a campaign event in 2020. These are the true believers.

Add these politically active users’ posts to a newsfeed powered by engagement metrics and algorithms, and you have a recipe for social media that over-indexes the fringes. Meanwhile, those in the middle don’t post about politics as much.

America’s center doesn’t fit neatly into the current party system. “Stressed Sideliners” are defined by their mix of conservative and liberal views and low political engagement. The largest group in the Democratic Party is “Democratic Mainstays” who lean to the center on some issues, while the “Outsider Left” is very liberal and frustrated with the Democratic Party. The “Ambivalent Right” is the youngest and least conservative Republican group, and they’re also post-Trump, with most preferring former President Donald Trump not continue as a major political figure.

These groups sound as if they’re experiencing a degree of political homelessness, just don’t expect them to share a status update about it. Pew found that those with moderate views were more likely to feel reluctant to post about politics on social media.

The truth is that most people simply don’t share political content online. Seventy percent of Americans say they post about political or social issues “rarely” or “never.”

There are a lot reasons people don’t talk about politics online. Some respondents told Pew they don’t pay close attention or don’t have anything to add. Others are worried they’ll offend others or be attacked for their views. A third of those who rarely or never post about politics said they don’t want the things they share used against them.

Social media is home to American’s most partisan and politically engaged, and it’s impossible to understand political culture today without acknowledging the role it plays. Still, it’s also not the full story. If you ever log on and feel as though your political beliefs aren’t shared, just know everyone who shares them is probably just lurking.

The true silent majority is the people who aren’t posting.

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