Google and Elections

Arnav Patel, Cory Alini, Matthew Cote, and Sasa Jovanovic



The internet has changed elections for good. Social Media websites like twitter and facebook offer onlookers and researchers a real time window into public sentiment. News aggregators and poll aggregators like Nate Silver’s fivethirtyeight have emerged as a result of the internet and are now are definitive source of election information. And perhaps most importantly Google has given us the ability to search all the world’s information in the span of a few seconds. This in particular has huge implications for the way we understand elections. As our go to service for finding out new information, google search trends offer us an insight into what people are interested in finding out more about. Looking at these trends can tell us a lot about where a campaign is at any given point in time. To show this, we have delved into the search trends of 4 of the most prominent candidates in this election to see how google trends reflect and inform our understanding of the elections.

Gary Johnson:

Google trends helps illustrate how the public is viewing Gary Johnson as it allows for an analysis on the most related queries, search interest by state, and top trending questions. First, the most related query in the past day for Gary Johnson was “Who is on my ballot.” This implies that most of the population is voting without knowing a nominee and gives insight to how well he might do. It is possible that some have voted without knowing who he was and first discovered his name on the ballot. This could also be in reference to some states not putting all possible candidates on the ballots depending on their particular laws. The second most related query, above Gary Johnson’s running mate Bill Weld, is Darrell Castle.  According to Liberty Hangout, Castle claimed that he was more Libertarian than Gary Johnson, so the high search rate could be to find a comparison between the two. This could demonstrate that people believed Castle’s claims or at least were moved enough by them to have it warrant a Google search.

Google trends can also help analyze which states are most likely to vote for this third party candidate. Looking at the figure below, New Mexico and Nebraska have searched for Gary Johnson the most out of all states. This could indicate that they would be the most willing to flip and vote for him. Since Gary Johnson is the governor of New Mexico and almost won his home state in 2012, the data makes sense that New Mexico would be search for him the most.

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Google trends may not be able to tell you exactly how Trump can come back from his position in the polls, but by looking at common data trends on Google, you can analyze searches to understand more about his campaign. Trump has made some outlandish remarks, some of which have derailed his campaign, but others are chanted at his rallies. In order to understand Donald Trump’s approach to the election, we must first understand his supporters.

If you have watched the news, it seems that Trump supporters are the most adamant in showing their support. This seems to hold true in Google’s data as well. Of the top 5 most popular Trump searches relating to Trump in the past day, 4 of them are relating to his standing in current polls. His supporters are asking “What happened to Donald Trump?” and “How can Trump win?” or simply “Will he win?”. These searches suggest that Trump is in fact getting through to the average man. Common people, those who are represented in the data compiled by Google, are invested in their candidate, leading them to search for information that would explain his position. People want Trump to win, because Trump has been successful at talking about real issues that his potential constituents are concerned about.

A less optimistic explanation for the popular searches is that these questions come as a result of people trying to reassure themselves that Trump will not win. At some points in in October (illustrated below), the most common search was “what did he say?”.

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This implies that people are unsure of how to interpret Trump’s words, perhaps unsure of whether or not he is even being serious. But on the other hand, the other top searches are related to actual policy proposals, leading us to believe that Trump’s supporters stand with him because he has targeted issues that stem from the common man’s fear.


Google Trends can point to the effects of sensational news on a candidate. This tool can prove especially useful in a campaign such as this year’s, when neither candidate has proven to be scandal free. With Trump’s inflammatory comments attracting constant media attention, Hillary Clinton has attempted to appear the less explosive candidate. How successful has she been in this aim? What have the effects of scandals been on her campaign?

Despite being the more experienced candidate, Clinton has struggled with several scandals over the course of her campaign. These include health concerns, an FBI investigation into her email server and returning gossip regarding her husband’s previous scandals. The prominence of these factors, as well as their potential correlations, can be seen in the following Google Trends graph:

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The graph visually doesn’t reflect much information, however once the data points are represented numerically more relationships can be seen. Specifically on October 28th on the FBI’s decision to reopen her case regarding immature handling of sensitive documents on her server, resulted in a +2 popularity change for the search “wikileaks clinton” and a +75 popularity change for the search “Hillary Rodham Clinton.” While we have previously discussed positive and negative language in the context of social media, these feeling indicators are not demonstrated in search result. Therefore, a search result stands independent of feeling indication and this spike in the popularity of the Clinton search may not be due to a spike in actual positive popularity for the candidate.

These results beg those that take search result numbers as indicators of popularity to be cognizant of the motivation behind the search as a factor in determining popularity.

Evan McMullin

Evan McMullin is arguably the most interesting candidate in the 2016 election. A brief summary: He started out by trying to convince GOP lawmakers to make an independent bid running on a more traditional conservative platform against Donald Trump. When that failed, he took up the mantle himself. A native Utahn, he has distinguished himself due to his good polling performance in his home state with some even offering ways in which he can secure the presidency.

So what can we glean from his search trends? Right of the bat, the trends show a similar story to the polls. McMullin does well amongst Mormons. His highest search volume comes from his native Utah and to a much lesser extent Idaho. Past these states, search interest is near non-existent.

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The top questions and issues trends support this further. Both trends seem to indicate that people are searching for more information on McMullin’s ballot status and his issue stances, suggesting that people are still trying to find out whether they can vote for him and what his candidacy is about. This is a contrast to Hillary and Trump whose trends are more influenced by individual scandals. These trends reflect the general public opinion of a McMullin candidacy or lack thereof.

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It seems clear that google search trends offer us another valuable resource of data that contains useful trends that  inform our analyses of elections. Like with social media trends, google trends offer a good reflection of what is happening in the race at any given point in time. In the case of candidates in particular, search trends alone can tell you a significant amount about where their campaign stands. The correlation between search trends and big election scandals and events that take place also make search trends a valuable resource to direct post-mortem analyses. All in all, google search, is just another example of how the internet has created new forms of data that can better help us understand and hopefully predict future elections.



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