Opinion polls are complicated beasts, open to questions about the representativeness of their sampling, especially as the proportion of the population without a landline telephone increases. They’re also expensive and slow to run. But we all like those polling numbers!
So it was interesting to read about a possible alternative to the traditional poll in this Slashdot piece:
Predicting Election Results With Google
“Google announced they’ve searched for clues about the upcoming US election using their internal tools (as well as its ‘Insights for Search’ tool, which compares search volume patterns for different regions and timeframes.) ‘Looking at the most popular searches on Google News in October, the issues that stand out are the economy,’ their official blog reported, adding, ‘we continue to see many searches for terms like unemployment and foreclosures, as well as immigration and health care.’
But one technology reporter also notes almost perfect correspondence between some candidate’s predicted vote totals from FiveThirtyEight and their current search volume on Google, with only a small margin of error for other candidates.
Follow the links for more details. Interesting! Can we do away with political polls altogether and just track the relative frequency of Google search terms?
Let’s give it a try. Using Google Insights for Search (Beta, naturally) here is a web search for region NZ date range Jan 2008 to Nov 2010 (all categories all subregions). Search term “National Party” is displayed in blue, and “Labour Party” is displayed in red:
Well look at that! Google predicted the Nats’ comfortable win in the 2008 election. Now I’m intrigued! Let’s see what’s happening lately — same search as above but starting Jan 2010:
Curiouser and curiouser. If I squint at that through rose tinted spectacles the Labour red line is looking pretty good. In fact I might even argue that in the last few months it is running neck and neck with the Nats blue line. According to Google, election 2011 is anyone’s game — you heard it here first!
And here’s a fun game for a Sunday, run your favourite search and tell us what it means. Yes yes, “John Key” hammers “Phil Goff” – ho hummm, he is the PM after all. Run “John Key” vs “Outrageous fortune” if you think you’re so smart. Or “John Key” vs “porn” — ouch!
Seriously though, heads up ivory towers, there’s plenty of good research to be done on this. It may be that the traditional political opinion poll will soon be a thing of the past. For starters. Because — what else can we do if Google search term frequency is a finger on the pulse of public opinion?