Can search volume data from Google predict presidential election in 2016?
As of writing of this blog post, Presidential Election fever is just getting started on both Republican and Democratic sides. As of now, GOP had 2 debates where as on Democratic side, the first debate has been just concluded. On these contexts, we’d look at what Search Volume data says about the interest of American people so far and how some of the presidential contenders are trending?
First of all what is “Search Volume” data?
In simple terms, Search Volume is demand generated by search queries entered into Google’s search engine. Generally speaking, popular words/phrases have higher search volume. Google defines it as “The average number of times people have searched for this exact keyword …” and it depends on location (mainly country) and time-range. For our purposes, it’s safe to say, more the searches, higher is the people’s interest on particular candidates.
Methodology of Analysis
We’ll keep the analysis for this blog post relatively simple by mainly focusing on:
- Total current search volume in Google and determine which candidate google users are most interested on this month
- Trend line of search over time to see the rate of growth (or lack thereof) on candidates month over month
Candidates to Analyze
We’ll pick few top candidates from both sides. From Republican side, let’s pick Trump, Carlson, and Bush where as from Democratic side, let’s pick Clinton and Sanders. Below is the current Search Volume on their names, data provided by Google:
As we can see on the table, the candidate commanding the most interest from the google searchers is clearly Donald Trump.
What else search data is telling us?
- Trump, Sanders, and Hillary are the top 3 candidates from search demand perspective.
- If 1 person searches from Bernie Sanders, 1.8 persons on average are searching for Donald Trump. At the same time, if 1 person is searching for Hillary Clinton, 2.2 persons on average are searching for Donald Trump.
- Within Democratic side, on August 2015, Bernie Sanders is clearly leading Hillary on search demand perspective. When there is 1 search for Hillary, on average, there are 1.22 searches for Bernie Sanders.
- Within Republican side, the search demand difference is pretty vast. When there is a single voter doing research on Ben Carson or Jeb Bush, at the same time approximately 4 voters are doing the same on Donald Trump. Interestingly, Jeb Bush and Ben Carson are neck to neck to each other as shown by Search Volume data.
- Even when Ben Carson and Jeb Bush’s search demand are put together, the number is still not even at 50% level that of Donald Trump. This data speaks on ability of Trump to suck off air his competitions on airwaves as well as online/offline media.
- Other interesting pattern that became obvious is voters are searching by entering the full name of candidates not just their first or last names.
Now, we have some idea on what drives voters search mentality today, let’s look into how the interest on part of voters is building up over time. As seen in the chart below, the interest (or search demand) is building up quite a bit in recent months and predictably it will keep on rising until the election days/months.
These 5 candidates we are looking at generated over 18.5 million searches in the month of August 2015, which is over 45% more than the previous month when there were about 12.5 million searches collectively. This means race is picking up.
Now, we know the overall trend line of all candidate, which serves as an average rate of interest on voters. Next, let’s look at how each of these candidates are doing in terms of generating momentum:
1) Donald Trump Trendline – “boom and growing”
Initially, there was no buzz on Trump, until he joined the race. As soon as he joined, his search volume soared and has continuously picked since. On August 2015, there were about 7.5 millions searches on his name.
2) Bernie Sanders Trendline – “slow and steady”
Below trendline shows Bernie Sanders has started his groundwork little before Donald Trump. Sander’s growth has been slow and steady compared to Trump.
3) Hillary Clinton Trendline – “the ups and downs”
Below trendline shows couple of very interesting facts:
- Hillary Clinton has been around for very long time (practically forever) as search volume of approximately a quarter million searches a month indicates even going back to Sep/Oct 2014. Around that time, please consider this fact: if there was 1 search for Donald Trump, there would be approximately 2.5 searches for Hillary. That is the power she entered the race with. With the same comparison, if there were 1 search for Bernie Sanders in Sep 2014, there would be over 4 searches for Hillary. Here, data is pointing to the fact that clearly she entered the race with a formidable name brand, compared to practically everyone else.
- Ups and Downs of Hillary Clinton are visible around April to May 2015, when voters stopped searching for her. Hillary’s search demand dropped from 2.25 million searches on April to mere 673,000 searches a month. [Quite likely, an impact of one those email scandals.]
- Ever since, the low point of May 2015, slowly her searches have been increasing showing she is coming back into her game and as of August 2015, her searches have more than doubled from its lowest point from 673K to 1.5 Million searches.
- Despite recent pickup, Hillary Clinton is still at 33% weaker than her strongest position on May 2015.
Summary: Search data driven analysis of political scenario
As we can see, there is a substantial relationship between search demand and what’s actually happening on the real world of politics. When voters go to search engines like Google and run their query on any candidates, they are expressing their interest. The word of caution here is such interest should not be interpreted as vote itself. Search Demand shows ability to generate level of curiosity on part of political candidates not necessarily ability to gain votes. Hence, by comparison, it’s fair to say Donald Trump is the master in the game to gain attention to himself. However, by any means, this is not an analysis of win/loss prediction.
As the data showed above, compared to Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump is 1.8 times better at capturing voters attention. Compared to Hillary Clinton, he aced the game by showing he is 2.2 times better at generating search. Keep in mind, this final data is for the month of August 2015 from searchers in the United States of America. Let’s keep on watching what the coming months data will show …