What Google Trends Tells Us About Brexit, People & Politics

What Google Trends Tells Us About Brexit, People & Politics

30th June 2016

Unless you are either completely disinterested in news or have been living under a rock for the past 12 months, you will know that the people of UK have recently voted in the European Union referendum and they have chosen to exit the EU. This news itself has caused economic shockwaves across the world, has jolted pound to its all time low in decades, has divided the country and caused national panic.

Let me be clear, this article will not go into the debate itself nor will it try to predict what will happen over the next few months. What it will cover is something that The Express covered and I am now delving deeper to see if this shows anything about people and politics.

I will start by explaining what the article on the Express says. In summary, it shows that just hours after the confirmed result of the EU referendum, there was a huge surge in UK searches around “what is the EU” and “which countries are in the EU”. On top of this there was also a surge of searches from London around “move to Gibraltar”.

I will let you all make up your own opinion and decisions on what this could mean. The one search I want to focus on is “what is the EU”. The Express article says the spike in searches could be from people of both sides of the referendum potentially researching to get as much information as they could to understand what will happen.

Looking at it from another direction, this could also mean that people may be voting without fully knowing all the details about what they are voting for. They could be relying on broadcast media messages rather than researching themselves. This article is going to look into this further and see if it really means something.

All Google Trends data shown here are taken from the region/ country where the public vote occurred.

EU Referendum 2016 Trends

The Google trends screenshot below shows the “what is the EU” spike and shows it happened around 7.30AM which is around the time the official results were announced.

what is the eu

Let’s see if there are any other searches around the EU that spiked. Here is the search term “what is the EU referendum”

what is the eu referendum

Interestingly this search term did not peak at 7.30 am, after the public announcement. It actually peaked at around 4.30 am which is when it was announced that there was no chance the remain vote would be possible. This was the first unofficial confirmation that the UK was leaving the EU.what happens if we leave the eu

Again another search “what happens if we leave the EU” spiked as soon as the unofficial leave the EU confirmation was announced.

what happens if we stay in the eu

Another point worth mentioning is that “what happens if we stay in the EU” peaked around midnight in which the announcement was made that it was likely we were to remain in the EU. You can see a trend appearing around people searching for information after the events have occurred.

what is brexit

Finally, “what is brexit” peaked at 7.30 once the officially confirmation was given.

I know Google trends is not the most accurate confirmation since no actual numbers are given but this has provided one statement that would be worth investigating to see if has happened in other public votes. That statement is:

People in general tend to research what the implications are of a political vote after the announcement is made

Let’s find out if this is true. To do this, I am going to compare Google trends data across other large public votes to see if there is a similar trend.

UK General Election 2015

Polling Day: May 7th 2015

Let’s look at the general election in 2015. To keep this as simple as possible I have selected a few common searches that people search for around that time so we can see when those searches peak and if there are any common trends across all public votes. The common search terms are:

  • What is the general election
  • Who should I vote for
  • What is *party*
  • Who is *party leader*

The first two questions should show spikes around the date that people decided to gather information about the public vote and who to vote for. The final search will show when people started searching specifics about a party.

For this search I am going to look at the month of May 2015. The polling day for the election was May 7th and the official announcement of the new political party was May 8th.

Let’s look into each search.

Search term: What is the general election?

what is the general election

Because we are going back more than a few days on Google trends, unfortunately Google does not provide us with hourly data. We only have the day now. However, you can see that searches spiked for “what is the general election” on the day of voting which makes sense.

Search term: Who should I vote for

who should i vote for

Again as expected, searches spiked on the polling day to show people searching who to vote for on the day.

Search term: Who is David Cameron

who is david cameron

Now we are looking at the other questions around the party leaders. Interestingly this shows searches spiked the day after voting the announcement was made. This again shows a spike in searches of people researching finer details of their votes after the confirmation.

will respect that this could be a spike in people searching for David Cameron because he won the general election and was voted into power. So let’s look at search trends for his main opposition.

Search term: Who is Ed Milliband

who is ed milliband

Search term: Who is Nigel Farage

who is nigel farage

As you can see for both the Labour party leader and UKIP party leader, all searches spiked on the 8th, the day after voting.

Finally, we will look at searches around people searching specifically around the actual party.

Search term: What is conservative

what is conservative

Search term: What is UKIP

what is ukip

Search term: What is labour

what is labour

“Who are the conservatives” searches spiked on May 8th, the day after voting. However, “what is UKIP” and “who are labour” actually spiked on May 7th. This shows that searches spiked for the conservative when they won the election and people searched for them.

Summary of Comparison

To summarise, the search trends when comparing to the EU don’t quite match up in some ways. More people searched “what is the EU” AFTER the polling day whereas in the election people searched “what is the general election” ON the polling day to help make their decisions. People are also searching for information about the specific party on the voting day also.

However, people still searched for information about the party leaders and their party’s after the election. This does aid the statement made that people look for the full details after the voting day.

Let’s look at another public vote further afield to compare.

The US Election 2012

To give a good comparison, lets looks at the US presidential election in 2012.

Election day: November 6th 2012

Common searches:

  • What is the US election?
  • Who should I vote for?
  • What is *party
  • Who is *party leader

Search term: What is the US Election?

what is the us election

Interestingly searches spiked for “what is the US election” the day after voting has closed. This is similar to what happened in the EU referendum.

Search term: Who should I vote for

who should i vote for

As expected the search term “who should I vote for” spiked on the day of the election.

Search term: What is republican

what is republican

Search term: What is democratic

what is democratic

Looking at searches around the actual political parties themselves. Again people are searching the day after voting.

Search term: Who is Barack Obama

who is barack obama

Search term: Who is Mitt Romney

who is mitt romney

When looking at searches around the party leaders. Again we can see searches spike after the election day for both the winner and loser of the election.

What does this all mean?

The main reason for this article is because of the recent EU referendum and the announcement about the rise of people searching “what is the EU” AFTER the actual voting has taken place. This led me to see if Google trends could predict a common trend on people’s behaviour around voting. Whilst this is in no way a full researched article this does start to make some suggestions about how people vote.

People may be searching for information about their chosen party after they have voted

The data shown here does show that the searches around the party’s themselves and their leaders spike after the voting has taken place. This could be people looking for information about the event. However, it could suggest that people are voting first and then researching in more detail once they hear the result. If you combine this with recent coverage around the UKs EU referendum where some people who voted to leave the EU are regretting their decision because of the effects it has caused. This does start to support the fact that people need to be better educated on how important their vote is and they should really do their research.

As I said, Google trends is not a conclusive dataset since Google are very selective on how much data they give you. However, I do think party leaders and their marketing teams should look at this. This could imply there are a lot of people that don’t research enough and don’t take the decision they vote for seriously. A lot of untrue information is paraded across all parties in elections and referendums. I think as a world we need to find a way of ensuring that the population have a way of easily finding the factual information they need to make a decision. There are charities set up such as Full Fact that offer true unbiased information but I think the world needs more. I think there needs to be a neutral body that sits alongside the campaigning parties and ensures they do not get carried away with the information they provide. Hopefully this will let the public better research to make their decision before the voting day and to stop any regret.


Written By
Adam Mason is a technical SEO specialist and co-founder of Datify, a data driven digital marketing agency in the UK.
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