Search engine more truthful than voting polls

Google discovers honest opinion on presidential candidates 

By: Amarra Ghani – Campus Voice Editor – aghani@unca.edu

“What is Ann Romney going to be wearing at the debate tonight,” may be irrelevant to the presidential campaign, but it may be a more accurate depiction of what the general public wants to know.

The millions of Google searches that take place throughout different states and cities paint a rather revealing picture of what Americans are interested in about the presidential candidates.

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, a doctoral candidate at Harvard University, analyzed studies which showcased Google searches made by the general American public for the two presidential hopefuls.

While polls and surveys are the traditional ways to shadow a presidential campaign, the search engine Google is changing that. In this study, Davidowitz found “Paul Ryan’s shirtless” is nine times more likely to be searched in Google than his budget plan.

Americans are looking more into the superficial facts rather than the substantial facts, Davidowitz told BBC news in an interview.

For instance, devout Mormans are known to wear religious undergarments. Because of candidate Mitt Romney’s religious background, more people tend to Google whether or not Romney wears them. According to Davidowitz’s study, people also lie to surveys, telling pollsters what they think they want to hear rather than what they actually think and their potential behaviors about voting. About 70 percent of people who will not vote tell pollsters and surveys they will vote.

People do not like to tell others that they do not vote, but Google searches are more honest. By analyzing anonymous data, you can get a more accurate picture of the electorate.

Discovered in 1995, Google launched its first search engine in the early 2000s. In 2004, Google became the most popular search engine, beating competitors including AskJeeves.com, Yahoo.com and MSN.com.

In February 2004, Google’s search index hit a new milestone with six billion items, including 4.28 billion webpages and 880 million images.

During the 2008 election, Davidowitz made a link between Google searches and votes that were actually cast for Barack Obama. He found where there was a high percentage of African Americans, Obama had a better chance of winning that region; however, Davidowitz has predicted that number will decrease for this election.

This study focuses on the reality instead of the colorful blue and red states that are drawn to help visualize the campaign.

Though predicting who will win the campaign is a far stretch from this study, it does predict something that should be noted: the voting turnouts. More people do tend to search how to vote, where to vote and voting locations.

More people tend to rely on news sources such as The New York Times or CNN, but often forget the reality of Google.

“Google it” has become a catch phrase for wanting to know something, and it is the most trustest way of finding out accurate information.

Though Google can be accurate most of the time, Google rumors are just as vicious as real life rumors.

In the 2008 study of analytical search data, Davidowitz discovered when the rumors of Obama being a Muslim were hyped, Obama lost one to two percentage points.  

The states in which racist searches were done on Google predicted Obama did worse than expected.

This is powerful information campaigners need to focus on. Polls and surveys may display information about candidates that is useful, but a Google search is the newest medium of retaining information.Something as simple as Google can predict the outcome of what people are interested in, even if it happens to be something as off topic as style of the candidates’ wives or how many pounds Ryan can lift.

Powerful information through these data sets and mapping interests in voting behaviors should be used to allocate voting mobilization efforts, Davidowitz told BBC.

The problem with the campaign and knowing where it is headed is completely overlooked by media outlets that do not include thoughts of the general public, which is where the votes come from.

There needs to be a focus study on why people are interested in things that have nothing to do with policy and plans, but are more interested in other realms of the politician’s lives. It may be because Americans thrive on gossip and knowing about politicians’ social lives.

Davidowitz told BBC that Obama’s Google searches were in the prime during the last election.

All in all, this study was a good way to showcase a different side of the campaign, a way to really hone in on the reality and level of awareness

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