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Can Google Search Behavior Predict Political Behavior?

- December 1, 2011

One of the driving forces behind the creation of Google Insights was the observation that Google searches can predict flu epidemics more quickly than other types of observations. Shauna Reilly, Sean Richey, and Benjamin Taylor have a forthcoming article (nongated), which suggests that political behavior too can be predicted from search terms. In particular they find that the level of Google searches on ballot questions taken one week before Election day correlates with actual participation on those ballot measures.

The authors highlight that this illustrates that measures based on Google search data may be valid measures of behavioral intentions (see yesterday’s post on racially charged search terms). Yet, it also suggests that search data can be used for forecasting. just for fun, I created a simple chart (sorry, can’t figure out how to embed it) for search behavior for Gingrich. It seems to track changes in the polls pretty well: Gingrich first started making inroads in polls taken November 4 and 5. Of course, polling data is only available several days later. I am sure more sophisticated exercises could be pursued.

Update: Lori Williams pointed me to this excellent visualization of Google search trends and poll numbers for Republican candidates (the Perry and Cain ones are especially suggestive).