Can Google Predict the Next President?

The search marketing community lamented when Overture/Yahoo removed their bid tracker tool. This was the easiest way to get a proxy on what terms people searched on the most. Did more people search for cheap travel or travel? Coke or Pepsi? Obama or McCain?

This last one is particularly intriguing. Could search data help predict the next president of the United States?

Imagine the search world's ecstasy when Google announced recently that Google Trends now has the ability to compare terms on a relative scale. While it's not as good as the old Overture/Yahoo tool that gave absolute search numbers, it's still very helpful, especially when it comes to the presidency.

Indiana goes Google Gaga for Obama

The graph below compares U.S. search trends in April for the terms Clinton, McCain, and Obama. Total searches for Obama far exceeded those of Clinton. For every Clinton search, there were 1.60 Obama searches. Yet, for every Clinton search, there were only .48 McCain searches.

Clinton/Obama/McCain searches

This makes sense, because the Democrats were in a heated primary. What's interesting is that Obama had so many more searches than Clinton.

Keep in mind that Clinton is artificially inflated by the fact that it contains searches having nothing to do with Hillary (e.g., people looking for Bill, Clinton Township, etc.). Obama is a unique term, so it has less statistical noise. Good gracious, did I just use the term "statistical noise" in an article?

Also, the data doesn't factor in searches done for Barack. Hence, Obama's 1.60:1 ratio is most likely even higher than the numbers indicate.

The other part of this graph points out that in April searches for Obama in the state of Indiana greatly exceeded those of Clinton. Hence, it would've been easy to predict that Obama was closing the gap on Hillary in that state. After all, if the voters already had decided to vote for Hillary, there wouldn't be a need to search for information on Obama.

Obama or McCain? Who's Going to Win?

As November rapidly approaches, who's going to be the next to sit in the Oval Office? The data below indicates that Obama should be the next commander-in-chief. However, it's interesting to note that once Hillary conceded, searches for the Democrats greatly declined. At the same time, it was the first month that more people searched for McCain than Clinton.

Looking at the here and now (last 30 days), Obama searches are still 3:1 over McCain. However, Obama's search lead has slipped 11 percent in the last 30 days.

Obama/McCain searches

Canada Cares the Most About the Next President

Predictably, as the chart below indicates, U.S. allies seem the most interested in the election (Canada, U.K., etc.).

Obama/McCain international searches

Global searches index even higher for Obama over McCain by a 4:1 ratio, possibly indicating the world is ready for change.

In the United States, not surprisingly, the most searches for Obama and McCain come from those living in Washington, D.C. Same holds true for college towns of Austin, Texas, and Raleigh, North Carolina, indexing within the Top 10 primarily due to the youth being so involved in this election.

How Can I Use This for my Brand?

McCain and Obama are trying to build up their respective "brands" in the eyes of voters. They must answer questions such as if it's better to print "Obama" or "Barack" on promotional posters. There are 3.5 more searches done on Obama than Barack... pretty helpful information.

Google Trends can be used in the world of business to help guide companies in making strategic decisions. Should Coke use the term "soda pop" or "soda" to describe the products on its Web site? What regions in the world search on Coke more? Pepsi?

I'll go into more specific examples and applications Google Trends has for businesses in a future article. In the meantime, it'll be interesting to see the role that search plays in the search for our next president.

About the author

Erik Qualman is the Global Vice President of Online Marketing for EF Education, headquartered in Lucerne, Switzerland. With more than 26,000 employees in 53 countries, EF Education is the world's largest private educator.

His book "Socialnomics: How Social Media has changed the way we live and do business" was released from Wiley Publishing in August 2009. Qualman is a frequently requested speaker within the Internet and marketing community and also maintains a social media blog at www.socialnomics.net.

Qualman has been highlighted in numerous publications, including: BusinessWeek, AdvertisingAge, USA Today, Forbes, PR Week, Investor's Business Daily, eWeek, Media Life, Direct Marketing News and Direct Response Magazine. He has also been interviewed on various radio and television outlets. Qualman is also a published fiction author.

Prior to joining EF Education, Qualman helped grow the online marketing and eBusiness functions of Cadillac & Pontiac (1994-97), AT&T (1998-2000), Yahoo (2000-03), EarthLink (2003-05) and Travelzoo (2005-08). Qualman holds a BA from Michigan State University and an MBA from The University of Texas at Austin. He was also first team Academic All-Big Ten in basketball at Michigan State and still finds time to follow his beloved Spartans.