Google US Presidential Election Barack Obama

Did Google help Obama win the election?


By Ishbel Macleod, PR and social media consultant

November 7, 2012 | 4 min read

Social media is being hailed as a key factor in Barack Obama retaining presidency of the United States, with his ‘four more years’ tweet having broken records by receiving over 640,000 retweets – but what part did search engines play in the election?

Google employees and owners counted for $737,055 of spend on the Obama campaign, coming third behind the University of California and Microsoft, but what is interesting is that research has found that Obama sustained a monthly average of just under 3 million internet searches across the top global markets (excluding the US), compared to Romney’s average of 819,700.

The research by iProspect found that globally, Obama received an average of 81 per cent of internet searches, a statistic which takes on more importance when the estimated 5.7 million U.S. citizens that live abroad are taken into consideration – people who could well be using internet searches to help them find the key points of candidate’s manifestos and debate topics.

In the UK and U.S. the percentage figures were almost identical, with Obama receiving 67 per cent of search terms in both, although the numbers searching were roughly doubled in the U.S.The Wall Street Journal this week suggested that ‘the search engine often customizes the results of people who have recently searched for "Obama"—but not those who have recently searched for "Romney."’When asked for his view on this, Chris Rothwell, search account director for global clients at iProspect, insisted: "Google has always prided itself on being completely unbiased when it comes to its search offering. This has been highlighted and called out repeatedly over the years, specifically around the European Commission’s investigation into whether spending more on sponsored listings created benefits to site owners in organic listings. This just wasn’t the case. Google knows that it would be too costly and damaging to their business model to be biased or give a preference based on questionable financial gain. “My thought would be that while Google and its owners have consistently thrown support to Obama and the Democratic National Committee over the years, they in no way want to jeopardize the industry driving business and position that they have in search. Being biased in data, operation of search results, etc., would be a detrimental move to them and as such is something they just don’t do."

However, could search terms have had an effect on the political race?

Google's election tool tracked the key issues searched for by each state throughout the election, with its trend tracker online, and was able to provide information on what was most important for what state: from tax cuts to legalization of marijuana. Research from Google also found that at the end of October, there were over 447 million headlines featuring the word Obama on Google, while there were 368 million mentioning Romney.On the other hand, Google found that during the presidential debates, it was terms from Romney that were most searched for - binders and big bird, anybody?

'Completely wrong'

One interesting point to end on is the top Google image result for ‘completely wrong’: Mitt Romney.Google has said that this is just a result of natural search, after Romney said an earlier statement that people would vote for Barack Obama in order to keep getting government handouts was "just completely wrong".

Google US Presidential Election Barack Obama

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