Can Google predict the general election outcome?

Posted on May 31, 2017

 

Shortly after the US Presidential Election, where Google Trends defied all other opinion polls by correctly suggesting a win for Donald Trump, we wrote a couple of articles about whether there could be a correlation between what people search for online and the outcome of real world events. These initially enjoyed some success before gradually throwing up some fairly hopeless predictions that were less Nostradamus and more Mark Lawrenson.

With ‘election fever’ gripping the UK once more, perhaps now is a good time to take another look at what we’re Googling and consider whether it might be an indication of what will happen on June 8th.

Of course, the run-up to this hastily arranged election has been dominated by two starkly contrasting figures – Prime Minister Theresa May and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. Polls currently suggest that although Corbyn and Labour are narrowing the gap, a Conservative government is likely to remain in power, but as Trump and Brexit have shown us, these polls are not always correct.

Recent elections have actually shown Google Trends to be a more accurate predictor of how people will vote, so let’s look at how the UK has been searching over the last 90 days, and what it could be telling us.

Vote Labour vs. Vote Conservative

The events in Manchester last week stopped election campaigning in its tracks, and it seems our Googling took a different direction too. Searches for both ‘Vote Labour’ and ‘Vote Conservative’ have plummeted since May 22nd, but the red line has always remained above the blue, meaning ‘Vote Labour’ is clearly winning the Google race.

To be as balanced as possible, I added ‘Vote Tory’ to the chart as well, but it looks like results for this search term are too miniscule to make much difference even if combined with ‘Vote Conservative’.

Labour Party vs. Conservative Party

If we leave out the ‘vote’ command and just search for the parties themselves, it’s still Labour cropping up in people’s Google search boxes a lot more. What’s more, it appears that the Google gap has been growing since May 16, which was the day the Labour manifesto was released.

This is somewhat surprising given that you would expect the partly in power to be creating more news and getting more people searching. Even on May 23, when the only activity from any politician was a statement from May on the Manchester bombings, more searches for Labour took place.

Jeremy Corbyn vs. Theresa May

What about the main individuals behind the two parties though? Which of them is getting us Googling?

This is a lot closer, with recent weeks having seen the two heads of their parties repeatedly leapfrog one another in the Google stakes. In fact, over the last 90 days, May and Corbyn are neck-and-neck on average.

However, this includes a huge volume of May searches on April 18, which was the day she announced the election. Over the last 30 days, Corbyn has started to receive more Google interest, with an average score of 40 to May’s 31.

So are Labour going to win?

Google Trends can be an excellent indicator of how people are thinking, but this search support for Labour seems at odds with the ‘silent voter’ aspect that saw Brexit and Trump triumph. Some analysts have suggested the surprising outcome of those two votes was down to some voters being less willing to announce their intentions.

We should also consider the types of people who use the internet and how they tend to vote. In the 2015 election, 43% of people aged 18-24 voted Labour compared to 27% who voted Conservative. Among over-65s, these figures were more or less the other way around (47% to 23% in the Tories’ favour) and this age group made up 23% of the voting turnout, while those aged 18-24 made up only 11%. We know that internet usage decreases as age groups go up, so maybe it’s not surprising that left-wing, liberal and socialist parties and people are attracting the most traffic via a medium mainly used by young people.

Nevertheless, Google Trends has a track record of suggesting an undercurrent of national feeling, so any politicians who rubbish these figures are likely to find themselves conducting a search of their own on June 9th – for a new job!

Content Team Leader at Engage Web
John works for Engage Web as a Content Team Leader and regularly contributes to the website and programmes of his beloved Chester F.C.
John Murray
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