Google News Lab Aims To Find Out What People Really Want From Politics

By analyzing search trends in real time, the Google Trends website allows journalists, or anyone, to find out what political issues matter to users of the search engine.

By Alexandra HartSeptember 21, 2018 1:14 pm| ,

Many have expressed feeling let down by political polling since the 2016 election. In the past, polls were seen as useful tools in the run-up to Election Day. They were seen as fairly reliable indicators of political sentiments and trends. But polling methods have struggled to keep up with changes in technology. For instance, who has a landline phone anymore? That used to be one of the most reliable ways for pollsters to gather opinions. So, how can we really know what’s on people’s minds these days, and what if you could reliably tell what people were interested in, politically?  

That’s at the heart of a news experiment being conducted by the Google News Lab in the run up to this year’s midterm elections. It’s not trying to find out the answers to pollsters’ questions, but what people, themselves, want from politics.

Simon Rogers, data editor for Google News Lab, says this is the first midterm election for which the company has been able to get real-time data from the Google search engine.

“It used to be that you had to wait two or three days to get our data back, and now we can get it back in two or three minutes.”

Rogers says the trend information isn’t a replacement for political polling, but that it’s complementary to polling.

Rogers refers to the Google News Lab as “an editorial bridge” for journalists seeking current information from a vast cohort of users. But anyone can access the data. At the Google Trends site, you can click on maps to see trends by state or community. The site lists candidates as well as issues people are searching for in a particular area.

Rogers says Google attempts to limit the influence of bad search results and “noise.”

“So, for instance, if you look at Texas, health care is the top search issue,” he says. “And that’s definitely something we’re seeing right across the country.”

Written by Shelly Brisbin.