Google Trends: Obama to win US election, no upturn in UK economy in sight

Google Trends: Obama to win US election, no upturn in UK economy in sight


Barack Obama will be returned to the White House in the US election tomorrow and contrary to the upbeat Q3 numbers issued by the Office for National Statistics at the end of October, there is no upturn in the UK economy in sight. These are the results of queries returned by Google Trends this morning.

Google Trends is a powerful audience planning tool. It provides insight about the level of interest in a keyword over time, by geography, based on the several hundred million search queries made via Google each day.

Actual search volumes aren’t provided. Instead results are returned in a graphical format re-based against a peak of 100.

You can interrogate Google’s search data and discover related search terms back to 2004 which means that it is possible to model and predict future behaviour. In fact where Google has sufficient data it will provide a forecast of its own.

Election win for Obama A simple query for both ‘Obama’ and ‘Romney’ for the US market for the period 2012 returned the graph below. You can see a very clear escalation in activity from August when the candidates started campaigning.

The graph shows that Obama (blue) has remained ahead of Romney (red) throughout the campaign apart from two instances during weeks commencing 26 August and 16 September. Google Trends based on search volumes alone for the surnames of the two candidates calls the election for Obama.

Search and the economy The widespread adoption of the internet and use of search to navigate web journeys means that it is increasingly possible to use search data to monitor economic and political trends. More than 80 per cent of UK consumers use the internet according to the World Bank.

The Bank of England published a paper in April 2011 titled Using internet search data as economic indicators (PDF). It examined the link between search data and the economy and stated that search data would become increasingly important for economic analysis.

Official economic statistics always lag reality. The recent UK data published by the Office for National Statistics was a month out of date before it was published.

Consumer and business confidence surveys typically provide a window into current activity. By contrast analysis of search data provides insight into a live situation as it develops, and is a by-product of a day-to-day activity, rather than a manufactured survey.

The authors of the Bank of England paper, Nick McLaren and Rachana Shanbhogue identify employment and the housing market and indicators of the health of the UK economy.

According to the paper “it is likely that people who are unemployed, or fear they may soon lose their job, will search the internet to find out about the benefits system and search for new jobs.”

Likewise in the house market “people interested in both buying and selling properties make use of the internet to monitor market conditions and advertise their properties.”

The paper proposes a regression model based on a series of keywords related to employment and house prices to understand the relationship between searches and the economy.

The Bank of England researchers find that despite some limitations in the data such as lack of historical data beyond 2004 and no information on actual search volumes, there is a strong correlation between search data and the performance of the economy.

Searching for an upturn Here’s what is returned if you query Google Trends for the search queries 'estate agents + house prices' and 'unemployment' for the UK for the period January 2009 to November 2012.


The seasonality in the UK housing market is very apparent as is the impact of the recession. It’s also clear that for now there is no sign of an upturn.

These search queries are based on single keywords.Time will test their veracity.  They are deliberately simplistic to make a point. Further interrogation would be required to build more sophisticated models as the Bank of England proposes, that could be used as the basis of planning activity and investment decisions.

Google itself has developed a Domestic Trends product to track search traffic across key market segments. At the moment this is only available for the US market.

Good enough for the Bank of England, good enough for public relations If you are interested in how search data can be used to model audience behaviour and future intent I would urge you to read the Bank of England paper.

If Google Trends is good enough to be used as an insight and planning tool by the Bank of England then it’s good enough for public relations practitioners.


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