The Google poll

Written By: - Date published: 7:43 am, November 7th, 2010 - 18 comments
Categories: election 2011, labour, national, polls - Tags: ,

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?

18 comments on “The Google poll”

  1. Jenny 1

    Good one R0b.

    Do one for the Mana by-election.


    • Eddie 1.1

      not enough volume to create graphs it says 🙂

      I imagine that even national party and labour party have relatively low search volumes in nz – maybe that’s why they bounce around so much

      • lprent 1.1.1

        Just do one term first, ie look at labour party.. I’d guess you have to do a cross table against the second term. I’m on the iPad fir Sunday morning reading in bed so i lost interest after I couldn’t see the graphs.

        I want skyfire so I can see flash..

    • Thomas forrow 1.2

      Re Mana funny there are no opinion polls,. National will have undoubtedly done one.
      I am campaigning in Mana and one hears LOTS of interesting things, from all the campaign teams,
      one of which is that the National Party campaign team expects to do really badly.
      We the Greens are doing very well in the North of the electorate
      Matt is doing well in the South
      Act is doing badly everywhere ;~)

      • felix 1.2.1

        Act is doing badly everywhere ;~)

        And that’s not just in Mana either 🙂 . Pleased to hear you’re getting good results in the north as that indicates taking votes off National.

        • Fisiani

          Yep Phil said that National would get a bloody nose in Mana. Given the majority last time was over 6,000 then with way this is going then a majority of say 7,000 would constitute a bloody nose.

          • felix

            No, that’s just a number you made up. I can do that too but unlike you I’ll give some logical basis for mine.

            If National are as popular throughout the country as you are always telling us then it would be absolutely amazing if they were to lose this by-election.

            Based solely on your comments here over the past year I’d say that given the overwhelming support throughout the country for the National govt and everything they do, and given the incredible love and respect that all kiwis have for Glorious Leader Sir John Key, National should be able to win this seat by at least 15,000 votes.

            Anything less than that would be an absolute pantsing.

            • Fisiani

              Felix try talking out of the normal end of your alimentary tract.
              NO government, no matter how popular has EVER won a by-election off an opposition in NZ HISTORY.
              Your hysterical claim of a National win by 15,000 is a to pathetic attempt to mitigate the humiliation of what will probably be a reduced majority Labour win.

              • felix

                You’re right, my numbers are a bit off.

                After all, apart from us idiots on the interwebz everyone loves John Key and everyone thinks National are doing a great job, right Fizzy?

                That’s what you’ve been telling us, right here, every day, for ages now.

                According to your daily pronouncements of the mood of the nation, National should win close to 100% of the votes in any electorate. Less than 90% would have to be a huge disappointment for you.

              • DS

                >>>NO government, no matter how popular has EVER won a by-election off an >>>opposition in NZ HISTORY.

                Not true. In the 1921 Auckland East by-election, the Reform Government gained a seat at the expense of the Liberal Party opposition.

      • Jenny 1.2.2

        Thomas, from your on the ground viewpoint, how is Labour doing?

      • Frank Macskasy 1.2.3

        “Act is doing badly everywhere…”

        Hardly surprising, Thomas. Anyone who saw the ACT candidate, Colin du Plessis, on Q & A, would’ve cringed at his comments.

        Where do they drag up these people from???

  2. Frank Macskasy 2

    Interesting, Rob…

    It backs up my ‘gut’ feeling that this will be a one-term administration and that National has been acting more and more like a “caretaker government” with it’s Do Nothing approach to our on-going recession and high unemployment.

    With ACT on it’s way out (one scandal too many, and Hilary Calvert a few sandwiches and a salad short of a picnic), National will have lost it’s one ally. The Maori Party will be torn apart if it continues it’s coalition with the Nats – Hone Harawira and his faction will see to that.

    Labour, on the other hand, will have the Greens and possibly (god help us) Winston Peters.

    Damn, I love MMP. Every election is a unique political ‘drama’ played out before our eyes. Reality TV has nothing on this.

  3. ghostwhowalksnz 3

    No wonder its more accurate. Just 6 letters into search box, compared to the 30-40 mins on the phone with a stranger asking circumlocutions- On a scale of 1 -5 how do you feel about …. spending defence money on buying a new plane for John Key

  4. freedom 4

    I am positive that this type of data is already heartily consumed by the Politi-Con’s and the backrooms have been watching these results for some time. Google has been ordained with an artificial faux-authority previously unseen but now becoming commonplace through technology driven data mining. The reading of the ‘consciousness’ of global data is an almost holistic gathering of all the groups using Google. The storm systems of data that accompany search results offer a real-time assesment of requested information, trend patterns, event magnitudes and are at their simplest, barometers of the information climate.

    The ‘polling’ is a growing interpretation of data which is rapidly being taken up by Marketeers, Admen, PR firms, as well as Governments, Intelligence Firms and wider Corporate interests. The everchanging applications of the Internet are already widely accepted as being an influence on diverse aspects of our world, from launching Justin Bieber to Gulf-Oil censorship, the power of Google data is only beginning.

    This hi-tech powerhouse of information. has recently been used very constructively by Over the last couple of months, the Alex Jones Show* has been sporadically setting homework of a kind. The host of the day has suggested a term for a Google search. It is usually made up of four to five words so as to give a strong profile to the term data. This exercise has returned some extraoridinary results.

    The ‘assigned search term’ has been consistently in the daily top five global searches and made No1 global search term more than once last month. The gargantuan volume of independant searches that must be carried out to achieve No1 can not be denied and reflects the growing awareness of Infowars as well confirming there is still public hunger for independant honest and verified information, otherwise known as news.

    * Yes Alex Jones is prone to rant and has a few issues. To be fair i remind you that Paul Holmes is still on TV! Yes he would do well to accept the global nature of his audience a little more but the show is primarily an American show. He is “just a guy from Texas” and there is enough to deal with there to keep any one busy. I do not agree with everything he says or believes nor why would I? I have my own brain to decide what to believe, as do you. The show has a solid supply of well positioned people -who actually do know what they are talking about- giving frank and honest interviews. Although the Live interviews and the general structure can be unprofessional at times, the Site content and integrity puts to shame most other news media. The site is a valuable resource, through it and others like it, we might become a little more aware of what is actually happening in the 21st Century.

    • Vicky32 4.1

      A friend sent me some DVDs from Alex Jones’ shows… He’s odd, but nevertheless makes some good points!

  5. bomber 5

    I noted in some research I did last year at Uni that the blog hits in NZ pointed towards a win in the Mt Albert by-election. Those with a political interest go on line to check out who they interested in and co-opt that opinion and spread it out, it will be interesting to see if that holds up for the election. If the Standard overtakes Kiwiblogh in hits I’d be interested to see the result.

    In terms of Mana, this electorate has felt the recession harder than many and the left need to formulate policy that deals with those realities of poverty which so seldom get reflected in the mainstream media, Matt could have real impact. John Banks and the right wing wrote off the poor in South Auckland to their great mistake.

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