United States of Search Analysis: Parties, Candidates, and Primaries (March)

The United States of Search is an interactive piece of content exploring search and online media around the US election. Here is a look at some of stories emerging from the March data.

Ear­li­er this month, we released an inter­ac­tive piece of con­tent explor­ing search and online media around the US elec­tion. With the Unit­ed States of Search we looked at what peo­ple are search­ing for in Google, and also the web­sites and pages they are find­ing as a result. So what does this search data reveal about the US Elec­tion 2016?

How Much is Search Impacting the US Election?

Search is hav­ing mas­sive impact on the US Elec­tion. From Feb­ru­ary of this year, search vol­umes for elec­tion-based search­es increased to 69.3 mil­lion — in some cas­es, with vol­umes for indi­vid­ual key­words tripling on Novem­ber-Jan­u­ary aver­ages1. It’s pow­er­ful evi­dence of the role that search is play­ing when it comes to the way vot­ers are seek­ing addi­tion­al infor­ma­tion dur­ing a major polit­i­cal elec­tion.

Per­haps unsur­pris­ing­ly, the major­i­ty of these search­es are from peo­ple look­ing for infor­ma­tion about the can­di­dates them­selves. Google Trends shows a sig­nif­i­cant increase in search vol­umes for ‘Don­ald Trump’ and ‘Bernie Sanders’ for exam­ple. As the fol­low­ing graph illus­trates, all the Repub­li­can and Demo­c­rat can­di­dates still run­ning a cam­paign for office have expe­ri­enced a notable increase in search vol­umes in the past few months.


Sim­i­lar­ly, there has also been a increase search activ­i­ty around indi­vid­ual top­ics and cur­rent affairs. On par­tic­u­lar points of polit­i­cal con­tention in the US, such as ‘gun con­trol’ or ‘immi­gra­tion’, vot­ers are using search to con­duct fur­ther research of a can­di­date or par­ty, pre­sum­ably to see if their stance aligns with their own per­son­al views.

This is a impor­tant devel­op­ment, for in pol­i­tics, where bat­tle lines are often drawn around such top­ics. Search­es such as ‘Don­ald Trump immi­gra­tion’, ‘Ted Cruz gun con­trol’, or ‘Bernie Sanders mar­i­jua­na’, for exam­ple, (and the con­tent peo­ple sub­se­quent­ly find) like­ly act as influ­en­tial touch-points in vot­er deci­sion-mak­ing jour­neys.

And increas­ing­ly, the impact that search hav­ing on pol­i­tics is being explored in greater depth. Ear­li­er this month Justin Wolfers of The New York Times wrote on the strong cor­re­la­tion between surges of elec­tion day search­es for a par­tic­u­lar can­di­date and the share of vote that can­di­dates were win­ning.

It’s not a crazy idea. After all, who among us hasn’t searched for reviews of a car, a stereo or a phone on the day of buy­ing it? And if we do this when we’re shop­ping, who’s to say that peo­ple don’t do the same on Elec­tion Day?”

- Justin Wolfers, The New York Times

It’s not an unfea­si­ble propo­si­tion. Research increas­ing­ly shows that organ­ic search is the chan­nel of choice for con­sumers when research­ing or eval­u­at­ing a pur­chase deci­sion2 — and nat­u­ral­ly there’s no rea­son why search shouldn’t be the chan­nel vot­ers turn also when they are look­ing to research or eval­u­ate a vot­ing deci­sion.

Thus with the Unit­ed States of Search, we sought to explore search and online media around the US Elec­tion beyond the typ­i­cal stud­ies of search vol­ume and top­i­cal inter­est. Using the Linkdex plat­form we also looked to gain an under­stand­ing also of the con­tent that vot­ers are see­ing, and one way or the oth­er, are influ­enced by.

What is the United States of Search?

The Unit­ed States of Search looks at the pop­u­lar­i­ty of indi­vid­ual can­di­dates, top­ics, web­sites, and pages, pre­sent­ing a view of how search behav­iour and con­tent con­sump­tion varies state by state, and over time (each month we will update the resource with the lat­est search data, cre­at­ing a his­tor­i­cal record of search all the way up until the Pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in Novem­ber).

We designed the resource to be an inter­ac­tive tool allow­ing jour­nal­ists and mar­keters alike to explore the data, find sta­tis­tics, and dis­cov­er their own sto­ries. Across the resources’ many pages, you can view the data at a nation­al lev­el, seg­ment­ed by indi­vid­ual states, or by any indi­vid­ual can­di­date (where data incor­po­rates search­es where a par­tic­u­lar can­di­date is ref­er­enced).

In the mean­time here are some ini­tial insights we’ve gleaned from the March data.

March Analysis: Search Popularity of Parties and Candidates

Republicans vs Democrats

First things first — what does the Unit­ed States of Search look like when we total search vol­umes for any search which ref­er­ences either the Repub­li­can or Demo­c­rat par­ty, or any of the can­di­dates that have run for either of the main par­ties.

repvsdem

The above visu­al­iza­tion shows the per­cent­age dif­fer­ence for any Republican/Democrat search from the nation­al US mean. In oth­er words, in Texas where 78.7% of search­es are for the Repub­li­can par­ty or any of their par­ty can­di­dates, we say the state has 4.1% per­cent­age dif­fer­ence from the US aver­age in favour of the Repub­li­cans (where the US aver­age for Repub­li­can search­es is 74.6%).

Essen­tial­ly, this visu­al­i­sa­tion allows us to view the extent to which state spe­cif­ic searchers are more like­ly to search for some­thing that ref­er­ences either the Repub­li­can or Demo­c­rat par­ty, or any of their can­di­dates.

(N.B. It’s fair to assume that Repub­li­can search­es vast­ly out­num­ber the equiv­a­lent Demo­c­rat search­es at the moment due to the com­pet­i­tive­ness and height­ened media cov­er­age around the cur­rent Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion sched­ule.)

Observations

  • Clear increased search inter­est for Repub­li­cans in the so-called ‘Deep South’ (name­ly South Car­oli­na, Mis­sis­sip­pi, Flori­da, Alaba­ma, Geor­gia, Louisiana, and Texas).
  • Arkansas, Ten­nessee, and Ken­tucky also have greater search inter­est for Repub­li­cans than aver­age.
  • Much of New Eng­land has greater search inter­est for Democ­rats, espe­cial­ly so in the state of Ver­mont (Bernie Sander’s home state) which reg­is­ters an aston­ish­ing 29.9% greater than aver­age search inter­est, in the main due to key­word vol­ume for the ‘Bernie Sanders’.
  • Greater Demo­c­ra­t­ic search inter­est in New Eng­land is with the notable excep­tions of New Jer­sey, Penn­syl­va­nia and Mary­land (typ­i­cal­ly con­sid­ered to be strong Demo­c­rat states) which, at least in regards to search vol­umes, are lean­ing Repub­li­can.
  • The Mid­west and West gen­er­al­ly has a greater search inter­est for the Democ­rats, with the notable excep­tions of Ida­ho, Utah, and Ari­zona.

Analysis

Whilst it’s clear that search vol­umes do not cor­re­late entire­ly with typ­i­cal state vot­ing pref­er­ences, to a large extent they do. Search in the Deep South, the Mid­west, and the West­ern Pacif­ic states are aligned with typ­i­cal vot­ing expec­ta­tions3.

That search inter­est should be gen­er­al­ly aligned to typ­i­cal vot­ing expec­ta­tions is not unsur­pris­ing, and coin­cides with Google’s impli­ca­tion; that increased search inter­est for a par­tic­u­lar can­di­date cor­re­lates direct­ly with vot­ing pref­er­ence.

There are how­ev­er, notable excep­tions in New Jer­sey, Penn­syl­va­nia and Delaware — typ­i­cal­ly con­sid­ered strong Demo­c­rat states — which espe­cial­ly in the case of New Jer­sey indi­cate increased search inter­est in Repub­li­cans.

Okla­homa, Wyoming, and Mon­tana — con­sid­ered strong Repub­li­can ter­ri­to­ry, also defy typ­i­cal expec­ta­tions, exhibit­ing a greater pref­er­ence for Demo­c­rat relat­ed search­es.

Are there any fea­si­ble expla­na­tions for these dis­par­i­ties? To get to the bot­tom of the mat­ter, we took a clos­er look at what exact­ly peo­ple were search­ing for in these states.

Further analysis

On the first point, New Jer­sey exhibits a 3.9 per­cent greater than aver­age inter­est in Repub­li­can search terms, and this can to a large extent this can be attrib­uted to Chris Christie — the New Jer­sey Gov­er­nor (who albeit recent­ly with­drew from the pres­i­den­tial race). Christie draws a 4.5 greater search inter­est in his home state over nation­al aver­age, and this vol­ume accounts to an extent for the state’s Repub­li­can lean­ings in search.

christie_nj

To a less­er extent, this effect can also be seen in neigh­bour­ing state Delaware, where searchers for the New Jer­sey Gov­er­nor are 1.9 per­cent high­er than the nation­al aver­age.

In Wyoming, Mon­tana, and Okla­homa, which lean blue in search, we found that a great deal of the demo­c­ra­t­ic search vol­umes were for the key­words ref­er­enc­ing ‘bernie sanders’ and ‘hillary clin­ton’. Search­es ref­er­enc­ing Sanders were high­er than aver­age in Mon­tana and Okla­homa, marked­ly so in the lat­ter, where searchers for the can­di­date were 2 per­cent greater than the nation­al aver­age. Wyoming and Mon­tana on the oth­er hand exhib­it­ed greater inter­est in Hillary Clin­ton, by 2.3 and 6.6 per­cent dif­fer­ence over aver­age respec­tive­ly.

Swing States

Over­all, with the notable excep­tion of Wyoming and Mon­tana, there cer­tain­ly does seem to be a notable cor­re­la­tion between over­all search inter­est and the expect­ed vot­ing behav­iour of indi­vid­ual states (based on his­tor­i­cal results).

Per­haps where the data can be most indica­tive is in swing states, where any indi­ca­tion of vot­er sen­ti­ment can be a valu­able sig­nal. The fol­low­ing chart illus­trates their polit­i­cal lean­ings with regards to search:

Where­as Flori­da and Ohio are both indi­cat­ing sig­nif­i­cant pref­er­ence over aver­age for Repub­li­cans, this is per­haps accen­tu­at­ed by the home state advan­tages of Mar­co Rubio (Flori­da) and John Kasich (Ohio). With nei­ther can­di­date stand­ing a real­is­tic chance of win­ning the nom­i­na­tion, it is dif­fi­cult to place any mean­ing­ful pre­dic­tion based on search behav­iour.

Iowa, with a less than 1 per­cent Repub­li­can pref­er­ence, is per­haps too close to call, but inter­est­ing New Hamp­shire and Neva­da both exhib­it a slight Demo­c­ra­t­ic lean­ing.

Where there is clear par­ty pref­er­ence with­in swing states is in Vir­ginia, which exhibits a 3.9 per­cent pref­er­ence for Repub­li­can search­es, and Col­orado which has a 7.2 per­cent pro­cliv­i­ty for Democ­rats in search over the nation­al aver­age, the sec­ond great­est pos­i­tive dif­fer­ence for the Democ­rats in any indi­vid­ual state after Ore­gon.

So could it be that search is indi­ca­tion that Vir­ginia will vote Repub­li­can and Col­orado Demo­c­rat come Novem­ber? Whether or not search can pre­dict over­all vot­ing behav­iour remains to be seen in the com­ing months.

Predictions

  • Vir­ginia to vote Repub­li­can and Col­orado to vote Demo­c­rat in the Pres­i­den­tial Elec­tion

Remaining Unknowns

Why are Mon­tana and Wyoming exhibit­ing such high demo­c­ra­t­ic search vol­umes? Wyoming is often cit­ed to be the most Repub­li­can state in the US 4 so could this be a case of vot­er hap­a­thy man­i­fest­ing itself in low­er search inter­est? Do states with heavy polit­i­cal lean­ings there­fore under­ep­re­sent vot­er sen­ti­ment in search?

The Primaries and Caucuses

Much of the polit­i­cal activ­i­ty and cov­er­age over the last few months has been cen­tred around the Demo­c­ra­t­ic and Repub­li­can pri­maries and cau­cus­es. For the results that have already come in, we have the advan­tage of look­ing at the results ret­ro­spec­tive­ly and see­ing where, if at all, that results have cor­re­lat­ed with search data.

The fol­low­ing chart shows search inter­est for Bernie Sanders, as com­pared to their over­all share of vote in the elapsed state pri­maries to date:

The results show that to a cer­tain extent a greater share of search vol­ume does coin­cide with a greater share of vote with­in a state pri­ma­ry.

Home state advan­tages yield the great­est devi­a­tions to this mea­sure­ment, and this reflects actu­al vot­ing. Bernie Sanders won the Ver­mont pri­ma­ry with a 86.1% per­cent share of the vote, the great­est win­ning mar­gin for any pri­ma­ry to date in the cur­rent elec­toral race. Accord­ing to our data, peo­ple in Ver­mont are 23.5 per­cent more like­ly to make a search ref­er­enc­ing Bernie Sanders than aver­age, which was also the great­est mar­gin when it came to search devi­a­tion for any state against the US mean.

The home state advan­tage can also be seen for John Kasich in Ohio, where the can­di­date was 4.7 per­cent more like­ly to be searched for than the US aver­age, and where he won the state pri­ma­ry with 46.8% of the vote.

kasich

Kasich has been peren­ni­al­ly trail­ing more than a few of his adver­saries, and Ohio has been the can­di­dates strongest state to date. How­ev­er the Ohio Gov­er­nor did man­aged a sur­prise sec­ond place in New Hamp­shire pri­ma­ry, win­ning 15.8 per­cent of the vote. This was reflect­ed in search where search inter­est of 2.7 per­cent over mean rep­re­sent­ed the great­est share of search in any state except Ohio.

To a sim­i­lar extent, Ted Cruz expe­ri­enced sim­i­lar height­ened search inter­est in his home state of Texas, where peo­ple were 5 per­cent more like­ly to make a search ref­er­enc­ing Ted Cruz than the nation­al aver­age. Cruz took 43.8 per­cent of the vote in the Texas pri­ma­ry to win the major­i­ty of del­e­gates, so it appears that this inter­est trans­lat­ed into votes.

Inter­est­ing­ly, search inter­est for Cruz in Iowa was also well above mean, at 3.9 per­cent greater than the nation­al aver­age and this may have been fuelled by his vic­to­ry in the states Repub­li­can pri­ma­ry in ear­ly Feb­ru­ary.

Clinton vs Sanders

When it comes to the bat­tle between Clin­ton and Sanders, there are a few states in which one of the can­di­dates is receiv­ing a greater search inter­est over mean.

In Ore­gon, search inter­est in Sanders is 6.9 per­cent over mean, the sec­ond high­est for any state oth­er than Ver­mont. Could this be indica­tive of a strong Sanders turnout in the state pri­ma­ry on May 17th?

As touched upon ear­li­er Clin­ton receives a sur­pris­ing amount of search inter­est over mean in Wyoming (6.6%), Mon­tana (2.3%), and North (3.9%) and South Dako­ta (3.3%). Wyoming is the only of these states to have held a primary/caucus to dater, and it actu­al­ly went to Bernie Sanders — who per­formed less well than Clin­ton in search — where peo­ple in Wyoming were 3.3 per­cent less like­ly to make a search ref­er­enc­ing Bernie Sanders than US mean.

In this instance share of search inter­est does not pre­clude vot­ing behav­iour. How­ev­er, if forced to go out on a limb one could say that if Clin­ton could not trans­late strong search inter­est in Wyoming into votes, that she is even less like­ly to do so in neigh­bour­ing mid­west­ern states — mean­ing, that they could well go the way of Sanders.

New York and California

Of the remain­ing pri­maries, New York and Cal­i­for­nia are high­ly sought after by all the remain­ing can­di­dates from either par­ties. For both the Repub­li­cans and the Democ­rats, the bat­tle will a direct bat­tle between two can­di­dates.

Trump vs Cruz

If results of the pre­vi­ous two months are any­thing to go by, then Trump will be vic­to­ri­ous in both New York and Cal­i­for­nia — Cruz is per­haps too con­ser­v­a­tive to win pop­u­lar sup­port in states with pre­dom­i­nant­ly urban pop­u­la­tions. If the vot­ing does go this way, results will cor­re­late with search inter­est in these two states. Trump receives 2.6 per­cent in search inter­est in Cal­i­for­nia, and 1.1 per­cent in New York over US mean. Cruz on the oth­er hand, receives 1.1 per­cent less in Cal­i­for­nia, and 1.4 per­cent less in New York.

In the Demo­c­ra­t­ic pri­maries, the bat­tle is hard­er to call, for although Sanders seems to gen­er­ate a greater pro­por­tion of search inter­est in these two states, the states he has won to date have been those in which he has gen­er­at­ed sig­nif­i­cant­ly high­er search inter­est. Sanders does have 2.7 per­cent greater search inter­est in Cal­i­for­nia, and 1.6 per­cent in New York. Clin­ton has -0.1 per­cent search inter­est in Cal­i­for­nia, and 1.2 per­cent greater than aver­age search inter­est in New York.

If we take Wis­con­sin as a prece­dent — where Sanders had 1.2 per­cent greater search inter­est, and Clin­ton -0.7 per­cent. Sanders took a nar­row vic­to­ry in this state — sug­gest­ing he could do the same in Cal­i­for­nia. With his advan­tage less in New York, we’re going to have to give the state to Clin­ton.

Predictions

  • Trump to take New York and Cal­i­for­nia con­vinc­ing­ly.
  • Sanders to win Ore­gon, Mon­tana, and North and South Dako­ta.
  • Sanders to edge a close bat­tle over Clin­ton in Cal­i­for­nia.
  • Clin­ton to win New York.

Final Thoughts

Admit­ted­ly this is far from a sci­en­tif­ic study of search and pol­i­tics. The above analy­sis is intend­ed to be a per­spec­tive of cur­rent progress in the US Pres­i­den­tial Elec­tion — as informed by search. Whilst it has unearthed some of the intri­ca­cies between search inter­est and vot­er pref­er­ence but while there are some cor­re­la­tions, it clear there is also great deal of unique nuance here.

Over­all, search inter­est can be viewed as an indi­ca­tor of vot­er sen­ti­ment — to an extent. It’s worth not­ing that whilst our data is in many respects, rea­son­ably com­pre­hen­sive, cer­tain­ly in its key­word and geo­graph­ic scope, it doesn’t take account of poten­tial­ly key data-points such as date or time of day.

Stay tuned for fur­ther analy­sis on the Unit­ed States of Search. Next time we’ll be explor­ing top­ics, web­sites and page vis­i­bil­i­ty.

Research and Methodology

Our research began by col­lat­ing a key­word list to cov­er a full spec­trum of polit­i­cal search­es in the US. This includ­ed all can­di­dates from either the Repub­li­can or Demo­c­rat par­ty to announce a cam­paign in Novem­ber 2015, polit­i­cal search terms such as ‘us elec­tion’ or ‘swing states’, and a full range of polit­i­cal top­ics and issues rang­ing from ‘gun con­trol’ to ‘health care’, ‘cli­mate change’, or ‘islam­ic state’, to name a few — and also includ­ed com­bi­na­tions of these terms such as ‘ted cruz gun con­trol’.

Search vol­umes were then obtained from pub­licly avail­able Google search data for the peri­od between Novem­ber 2015 and Jan­u­ary 2016 seg­ment­ed by each indi­vid­ual state. Key­words were then tagged and cat­e­gorised into rel­e­vant enti­ties, so we could see the vol­ume of search­es being con­duct­ed for any search­es ref­er­enc­ing either the Repub­li­can or Demo­c­rat par­ty, any indi­vid­ual can­di­date, or any indi­vid­ual top­ic or issue.

To find out what con­tent searchers were vis­it­ing as a result of their search­es, we used the Linkdex SEO plat­form to ascer­tain which web­sites were win­ning share of search for any of these key­word groups, for each indi­vid­ual state. Fol­low­ing, are a few exam­ples of how the data can be com­pared and cross-ref­er­enced (and I think you’ll agree with some inter­est­ed results).

You can find out more about the method­ol­o­gy behind our research here.


Contributors

  • Pat Hong

    Pat Hong

    Editor at Linkdex/Inked, Linkdex

Get reports like this straight to your inbox

Sign up for our newsletter, and we'll let you know when we release new reports, studies and eBooks!


Introducing Linkdex, the SEO platform of choice for professional marketers.

Discover why brands and agencies choose Linkdex

  • Get started fast with easy onboarding & training
  • Import and connect data from other platforms
  • Scale with your business, websites and markets
  • Up-skill teams with training & accreditation
  • Build workflows with tasks, reporting and alerts

Try Linkdex for free.

Just fill out this form, and one of our team members will get in touch to arrange your own, personalized demo.