Can Google Predict The US Election?

24 10 2008

The world is counting down to decision day. Who becomes the most powerful man in the world? Who becomes the leader of the United States? The race is being closely run by John McCain and Barack Obama.

Polls are being closely scrutinised to try and see who is leading, what difference comments made and which states seem safe. The polls, at the moment, have Obama out in front. They all differ in the size of the lead from 11% to just 3%, but  still in front.

Data-analysis company Gallup have Barack Obama out in front with 50% of the votes, where John McCain has 43% of the balllots.

With this data, Just Google It considered how similar search volume could be to the way people were going to vote. Could the way people search influence their Presidential choice? We looked at Google Trends to find out…

A quick trip to Google Trends and the comparison of all the presidential and vice-presidential nominees gives us this graph:

We can see here that the search results do in fact compare closely with the poll results in the fact that Obama is ahead of John McCain. However, the gap is a lot larger than the polls suggest. Obama’s search volume being almost twice that of his rival’s with 62% of the searches between the two going his way, 37% going the way of john McCain.

An odd thing to note here is that Sarah Palin, the VP choice for the Republicans, actually holds more searches that her running partner john McCain. If we combine the search scores of each democrat and republican, we get a figure that resembles the polls more closely, but also one that changes the whole perspective.

Obama and Biden (1.70 and 0.22) come together to form a search factor of 1.92. However, McCain and Palin (1.00 and 1.54) combine to score 2.54. This give the Republicans 56% of the searches and a 14% lead.

The polls suggest that Obama would win if the election was today. However, the BBC have recently published articles that suggest that the polls are not an accurate indication of how voting-day results will turn out. Could people be saying they will vota Obama because they do not want to be seen as racist? Will they happily change their vote once they are in the safe, non-judgmental environment? As the BBC reported in that story:

At a local restaurant a friendly waitress started chatting to us. The conversation turned to politics. She shrugged, she was not even sure when the election was to be held, she could not pronounce Mr Obama’s name.

“I like McCain because I can say his name, so I’ll probably vote for McCain. (Obama is) from Africa or something. I don’t even know where he’s from. I know he grew up here, but he’s not from here. I think American presidents should be from America.”

The BBC also ran another story with past elections with black candidates who led by a large margin, but either lost of just scraped through. They speculate the same thing could happen to Obama.

Two decades ago, Douglas Wilder watched as a 9% lead in the polls in the race to be Virginia’s governor slipped to just one-tenth of 1% when the ballots were counted.

The theory goes that some white voters tell opinion pollsters they will vote for a black candidate – but then, in the privacy of the polling booth, put their cross against a white candidate’s name.

And the fear among some supporters is that this could happen to Barack Obama on 4 November, when the country votes for its next president.

With the polls suggesting Obama is in front, history stating that leads held by black candidates are lost, racism such an issue and search queries putting Obama in second place, could Google be predicting the future in terms of Election 2008?

Let us know what you think. Leave a comment! Ask us a question!




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