Using Google to Predict Elections?

An unscientific approach!!!

One of my favorite tools to see trends, patterns and seasonality associated with search terms is Google Trends. It lets you see trends associated with specific keywords and compare up to 5 keywords together.

With all the buzz around the democratic primaries, it was only fitting to use Google Trends to see if we could see patterns that could shed some light into the outcome. The results, although not scientific are pretty revealing. First off, here’s a comparison of searches for the terms “barack obama” and “hillary clinton” over the last 12 months. We’ve obviously filtered out the international traffic and the results are shown in the figure below.

Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton

The interesting trend here is that Obama was behind Clinton in terms of searches till January of 2008. January 3rd happened to be the date of the Iowa caucuses which showed a surprising win by Obama and one can speculate put him on the map as far as the general audience is concerned. To test the hypothesis, lets look at a similar comparison, but this time between “huckabee” and “mccain” and interestingly, we see a similar pattern.

Huckabee - McCain

Within the GOP front, we see a spike in interest for Huckabee prior to the Iowa caucuses and a decrease after McCain gains momentum from consequent wins.

How accurate is this?

So you’re wondering, how accurate is this? While Google Trends is a great tool for search engine marketing, it is simply not built to forecast elections and markets. For example, if you look at the breakdown by states, you can see that the term “barack obama” gets higher traffic than “hillary clinton” in all states, including Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Ohio – where Hillary Clinton won by a large margin. This is shown in the image below.

State by State comparison

In fact, in terms of popular vote, both candidates were neck and neck. And you can make the argument that most people did not know much about Obama before the primaries began and therefore what we’re seeing is people educating themselves about the candidates. But it’s certainly fun to see the trends in terms of peaks and valleys around some specific events such as the start of primaries and caucuses.

The purpose of this post is not to endorse any one candidate or make market predictions, but rather showcase what you can get from Google Trends. The information can be very useful in determining peaks and valleys in user interest associated with specific events of relevance to your business.

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