The forecasters are out in force as the US presidential election draws closer. And among the tea leaves being scrutinised are Google search results.
For economist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, a comparison of recent search rates with comparable data from 2008 provides “a pretty good idea of the composition of the 2012 electorate”.
Such information, he argues in the New York Times, can provide an insight sometimes lacking in survey results.
“Despite the ubiquity of Google searching, and searchers’ demonstrated willingness to share their true feelings and unbridled thoughts on Google, what Americans are typing when they search remains surprisingly underutilised in political analysis,” he writes.
It’s a growing field – see for example this report.
Search data in the final few days before the election will be most revealing, but one of Stephens-Davidowitz’s most compelling finds so far is that “the largest black populations are, on average, Googling for voting information at rates similar to those of 2008, rather than 2004, levels” – encouraging news for Democrats.
The method turns up other, more disturbing discoveries along the way.
Such as: “On election day in 2008, roughly one in 100 searches that included ‘Obama’ also included ‘KKK’ or ‘nigger’.”
Or: “Every month, about 5,000 people ask Google about Mitt Romney’s underwear choice.”
And: “’Paul Ryan shirtless’ is currently Googled nine times more often than ‘Paul Ryan budget’.”