A report issued Thursday by the Pew Research Center examined the total reach of Reddit, as well as the pervasiveness of presidential politics within the site. To anyone who reads or follows Reddit, though, some of the numbers seem a little, well, off.
The survey found that just 7 percent of Americans self-report using the site. Huh. Now, Reddit itself reports having 230 million monthly unique visitors. More than 110 million of those unique visitors are in the United States, according to Reddit. If that measurement is strictly correct--and, let's be clear, few are perfect--that would mean more than one-third of Americans (assuming one person per IP address) are visiting the site every month.
Where did this 7 percent come from? The survey's data was collected through the American Trends panel, members of which were recruited through random-dial surveys of landlines and cell phones. Those who completed the survey were invited to join the panel, and agreed to give their email or physical home address to do so. The specific Reddit numbers came from 4,654 responses in January and early February of this year. More than 300 of those responses were through snail mail.
So, perhaps those respondents are not Reddit's core user audience. And it's not a particularly large sample. (A Reddit spokesperson reiterated that Reddit has 110 million U.S. monthly uniques, and the company would not comment on the discrepancy with Pew's numbers.) Still, the results showed some interesting things. That's largely because Pew conducted separate research on the Reddit site itself, and its "subreddits" sections, exploring the breadth of political discussion throughout the site.
Of those who responded that they were indeed Reddit visitors, 78 percent say they get news there. One in five of the Redditors named Reddit specifically as the most "helpful source" on learning about politics. And 45 percent of Reddit users say they learn about the 2016 presidential campaign in a given week from the site. That's in the same ballpark as the portion of Facebook (52 percent) and Twitter users (43 percent) who report they get news and information about the election on those sites. (Pew's report was compiled as part of a series the center is publishing to explore the role of news in social media.)
Of course, with election season in full swing (though it was less so when the data was collected this summer and fall) there's no shortage of politics on Reddit. It'll come as no surprise to Redditors (primarily liberal males) that Sen. Bernie Sanders is the most talked-about candidate on the site. His most-subscribed-to subreddit r/SandersForPresident, has 193,000 subscribers.
What might surprise some is the popularity of Donald Trump on Reddit. His most popular subreddit is r/The_Donald. It is growing fast, and has 34,000 subscribers. That's far more than Hillary Clinton (about 5,000 subscribers) or Ted Cruz (1,200) can boast.
Even if the numbers are suspect for total Reddit users, the additional Pew research found that in the three months studied, Reddit users left more than 350,000 comments mentioning a presidential candidate.
Numbers provided by Reddit show Sanders and Trump nearly neck-and-neck on Reddit, in terms of comments this year. The company shows that Sanders has 192,000 and Trump has 184,000.
"In this upcoming election, politicians are using Reddit to engage with their constituents and drive support across the country, in real-time," Reddit co-founder and executive chairman Alexis Ohanian said through a spokesperson. "That's what's so compelling about social media's role in politics this year."
Both Reddit's and Pew's numbers show hundreds of thousands of comments on candidates, which is some serious political heft. But even so, these comments amount to less than 1 percent of all the comments left on Reddit during May, June, and September, the months examined by Pew. And politics didn't spread around the site; it stayed mostly contained there or on the candidate-specific subreddits.
That in particular is interesting, considering the very early days of Reddit, when co-founders Steve Huffman and Ohanian were running the fledgling site out of a walk-up apartment in Medford, Massachusetts, not far from Harvard University. The site began as a single homepage of new links, shared mostly by the co-founders and their friends. Once it grew a bit, Huffman found the sheer number of politics-oriented links showing up on the site irksome. While r/politics wasn't the site's first subreddit (that honor goes to r/programming), it was the second. Huffman created it by hand because he finally grew sick of seeing so many politics links on the site's front page.
It's interesting that some 10 years later, politics discussions on Reddit are still pretty contained to r/politics and other political-topic subreddits. But Pew reports that: "nonetheless, where the discussion did take off, it could dominate." And, 10 years later, politics is still big on Reddit. The politics subreddit was reliably a top-20 subreddit in popularity on the site during the months in which activity was examined. The research found about 9,000 posts on r/politics in which "at least one comment named a presidential candidate--fully a third of all posts made in the period."