February 5, 2016

The 2016 Presidential Election as Told by Google Trends and Social Media

Photo courtesy of telegraph.co.uk

By Justin H.

Funding a presidential campaign? Simple. Running the United States of America? Walk in the park.

Dominating the search world on Google Trends? Now you’ve got my attention!

The 2016 election has been a hot-button topic for months now due to the eccentricity of most of the candidates. This is not your average, run-of-the-mill group of politicians we have here. These candidates were born to duke it out in the internet age on social media as opposed to sparring with verbal jabs and angrily scrawled notes via carrier pigeons in the 1800s.

An interesting narrative regarding the election is Google’s role in it. In a recent op-ed on Politico.com, senior research psychologist Robert Epstein of the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology stated that even the slightest tweak in Google’s top-secret search algorithm could rig the entire election.

The studies showed that rigged search results, which showed particular candidates in a more favorable light, had a profound impact on undecided voters. Candidates’ favorability ratings were boosted by between 37% and 63%!

Now, nobody is accusing Google of rigging the election, but it is certainly mind-blowing that an internet search engine has that power. Welcome to 2016, everybody.

Given Google’s influence, it means a lot for candidates to make waves in the Google Trends department.

The tough question is this - in this era, is controversy actually beneficial to a presidential candidate?

Donald Trump

As controversial as he may be, we’ve all heard the phrase, “there’s no such thing as bad press.” Trump takes that notion and runs with it like no other.

A study by FiveThirtyEight.com showed just how popular he has become on Google Trends.

The Republican Party to this day has a bevy of candidates still in the running, although a few have begun separating themselves from the pack. This chart was from mid-2015, and Trump was already collecting 50-60% of all search traffic received by the entire GOP. When one candidate is garnering as much attention as the rest of his or her political party combined, there’s no way said candidate will drop out of the race quickly or quietly.

This is just the nature of the race in 2016. Shock value has never been more important. Trump can skip debates entirely and still maintain the lead in the polls strictly due to his dominance on Google Trends.

Hillary Clinton

Another candidate who has been a hot bed for controversy, Hillary Clinton’s online approach is different than Trump’s, albeit still very effective.

Clinton’s Twitter following, which exceeds that of all other candidates, aligns her favorably with a younger crowd.

But, wait…there’s more! Clinton also has a polarizing presence on Google Trends as well.

Check out the top trending questions about Hillary Clinton prior to the most recent Democratic debate.

Two of the top three questions are overwhelmingly negative, yet Clinton is still as popular as ever. It reinforces an interesting question which we will address later…

Bernie Sanders
According to Tech Insider, fellow Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders may be tightening the screws on Google Trends, as he has the upper hand over Clinton in the New Hampshire primary.

Again, the trending questions tell a huge story on Google Trends, as people are searching, “Where will Bernie Sanders be speaking?” and “How to donate to Bernie Sanders,” whereas Clinton’s top question is, “How old is Hilary Clinton?”

Is it telling that Sanders has overtaken Clinton online and now appears to have a slight edge overall in the election, or is it purely coincidental?

All this information brings us to one question: Does the internet determine who wins the election, or does the internet simply love controversy?

It’s obvious there’s a huge correlation between success online and success in the polls. It just goes to show that, in 2016, it’s nearly impossible to run for office quietly. In a way, the internet has bred these overly-boisterous and outlandish candidates. Will it pay off? We’ll just have to find out!

What do you think the relationship is between search engines/social media and the election? Start a discussion in the comment section below!

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