Predicting the future with search
Someone once told me that Google could track the spread of a flu outbreak two weeks sooner that our very own government systems. So I got to thinking, if you can track flu, and you can track the popularity of Cup Cakes as my good colleague Matthew Ncube did here, then surely we would be able to track the movers and shakers in the political cat and mouse game that is the month before the election.
I read with interest the article written by Matthew Ncube and John Hillman comparing the profound use of digital media by Barrack Obama in his election campaign against that of our own serious contenders, Messieurs Cameron, Brown and now of course Clegg. Here I will be delving deeper into the trends that we have seen throughout the election campaign so far and making some bold statements that I’ll be happy to hang my bowler hat on!
So let’s start by proving the theory that you can track national trends by the frequency of searches on Google, starting with our very famous Volcano Eyjafjallajokull. What day did the travel chaos start? Let’s see:
Quite clearly it was the 15th April and people were obviously very concerned for about five days, before losing all interest after ten.
When did the John Terry story get released by our friends in print media? Let’s see:
I would hazard a guess it was between the 24 – 30 January 2010. And with that I think the theory is proven, so let’s bring the discussion back into the political ball park and see what day our current Prime Minister announced the date of the UK general election:
Safe to say it was on April 6th that election fever hit [link], as shown by the blue line on the chart, and the fever has sustained itself and even grown ever since. But what about the red line? Well, also on 6 April the controversial and some say ‘human rights breaching’ Digital Economy Bill was slipped under the radar and rushed through Parliament.
The Digital Economy Bill
6 April was a profound day in UK history, ‘A bad day for democracy’ some may say! But if Peter Mandelson were to see my graph above I’m certain he’d be rubbing his hands with glee at the apparent short attention span of the UK public, who just three weeks later have zero interest in the controversial Digital Economy Bill. Well done Peter!
Back in the election ball park again, let’s have a look at how the three major parties have fared in the last 12 months in the run up to the general election:
We can clearly see that whilst the Conservatives and Labour have continuously squabbled to be the nations favourite with wins and losses along the way, there has always been a consistently distant runner up in the form of the Liberal Democrats.
Search and the General Election
Fast forward to electioneering fever post 6 April and we see a somewhat changing picture, perhaps reflective of a flu pandemic reaching its tipping point (recommended read: Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point):
If 6 April was proclaimed as ‘a bad day for democracy’, I am hereby claiming that 15 April was a great day for democracy. Suddenly the consistent underdog bites the two old codgers in their backsides and the election race gathers pace. 15 April saw the first BBC Prime Ministerial TV debate in the UK and with it we are reminded of the power of television once again. My colleagues John and Matt argue the parties aren’t using PPC very well, I agree, but what I’d add is the undeniable value in integrating Offline and Online communications. This has not been done well by any of the top three parties.
I’ll summarise what the three of them all spoke about on 15 April:
In a time of unrest in our country they are obviously and quite wisely focusing on the bottom steps of Maslow’s Hierarchy, Physiological and Security needs. They talk of Tax; Economy; Police; Education; Immigration; and Health; amongst other things. But how do these mutterings by Messieurs Cameron, Brown and Clegg compare to the interests of the general ‘people’ that they mention most often?
Trends and the important issues
The NHS leads the race as the most important issue in the UK, followed by Policing and Education. Immigration and the Economy barely feature; people just don’t care about the economy unless they see how it affects them. So let’s change Economy for Tax and see how that fares:
And so we see that Tax is actually the second most concerning issue for the general public of the United Kingdom, showing that whilst Lady Gaga is more important than our economy and children’s education, when it comes to the financial impact on one’s own pocket the political stakes are high!
The rise of the Lib-Dems
And if you had any doubt that Nick Clegg performed well in addressing these crucial points in the First TV debate, let me settle your unrest with evidence:
And the Liberal Democrats have maintained their lead in the Google Opinion Polls ever since the first TV debate:
But if you question whether search interest translates into visits to each party’s website, Hitwise helps us to understand the complete picture:
I would argue they have done this by focusing their rhetoric on the things that matter to the people of the UK. And whilst Peter Mandelson may rub his hands gleefully at the naivety of the UK public, Nick Clegg sweeps across the countryside empowering us to ‘Think’ for ourselves on the matters that we truly care about:
Barack Obama scored the greatest surprise in modern day politics by empowering the people of the US with his “yes we can” rally call. Nick Clegg is on course to score an equally big upset by encouraging us to ‘Think’ about a something different to the Labservative system.
Now the three parties are truly neck and neck (see the final chart below) with 1 week of campaigning left. Will the relative levels of interest seen in online search trends translate into real votes on May 6th? I’ll hang my hat on the ‘yes’ hook and predict an upset on the step of Number 10!