And The Winner Is…

While the election is over, I wanted to take a look back at the search trends for the two candidates to see what patterns, if any, emerged as election day approached. Thanks to Google Trends, I was able to quickly look at search query traffic for a number of search terms over varying time periods and geographies.

Google Trends for the US – “Obama” versus “McCain”
September – October 2008

And The Winner Is… image Obama vs McCain 2008

As a point of reference, I first looked at “Obama” versus “McCain” from the 2008 election as the results were fairly decisive. The trend lines below indicate that “Obama” had a steady, but not staggering, lead over “McCain” for the month of September leading into October. What is interesting is how the term “Obama” started increasing its lead within the last two weeks before the election.

Google Trends for the US – “Obama” versus “Romney”
August – November 6, 2012

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And The Winner Is… image Obama vs Romney 2012

The 2012 election showed some different results with much higher traffic levels, especially around specific events on the campaign trail:

  • Romney picks Ryan as his Vice Presidential running mate on August 11th
  • The GOP Convention from August 27th – 30th
  • The DNC from September 4th – 6th
  • First Presidential Debate on October 3rd
  • Second Presidential Debate on October 16th
  • Third Presidential Debate on October 22nd

Aside from the two party-convention periods, the traffic volume for “Obama” and “Romney” was fairly close with “Romney” actually taking the lead the day of all three presidential debates. It was after the final presidential debate that the term “Obama” started pulling away in the final weeks leading up to the election.

While these overall search volume trends seemed to intimate a predictive element to Obama’s victory, I wanted to dig deeper into the battleground states to see how search terms varied in some of these key geographies. Both Ohio and Pennsylvania were close calls with search volumes for “Obama” and “Romney” remaining relatively close up to election day.

Google Trends for Ohio – “Obama” versus “Romney”
August – November 6, 2012

And The Winner Is… image Obama vs Romney Ohio 2012

Google Trends for Pennsylvania– “Obama” versus “Romney”
August – November 6, 2012

And The Winner Is… image Obama vs Romney Pen 2012

Florida, on the other hand, showed a bit of a different story with the search volume for “Obama” maintaining a smaller lead in the few weeks before the election. A large part of this traffic was likely due to Hurricane Sandy, which was predicted to impact Florida making big headlines in late October.

Google Trends for Florida – “Obama” versus “Romney”
August – November 6, 2012

And The Winner Is… image Obama vs Romney Florida 2012

I don’t want to confuse coincidence with correlation—I’ll leave the true statistical analyses to Nate Silver—but it is intriguing to look at these search patterns with some level of reliability for predicting the election outcome. At this point, we’ll have to wait another four years before we can test this hypothesis.

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