Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Facebook is the New Rasmussen (in 2-4 years)

Just before the election for MN Senate, the Degausser pointed out that Franken had a handy lead in Google Search trends in Duluth that could translate to a win for him in the area. After doing a little bit of research into the emerging world of political analytics, I have seen the future. And man, is it scary/fascinating/scary.

Just a quick primer: analytics is the process of using internet data such as searches, page views, and unique visitors to identify trends. These data are being refined in the business world to better market products to buyers. In the political realm, these data will become the new polling numbers.

In 2006 mid-term elections, researchers looked at candidates Facebook entries and created models that equated supporters to voters. They found that challengers were more likely to use Facebook as an organizing tool and that it could potentially add 1%-3% to the candidate's total vote.

Analytics are just beginning to be used by political scientists and campaigns. Most of the data is scattered and more research needs to be done to discover total impacts, but in a few election cycles, the internet will become (or maybe it has already) a 24/7 polling place.

Just for fun, let's look at some data collected from Al Franken's and Norm Coleman''s web presence over the course of 2008.

NOTE: Data presented here are from January 1, 2008 to November 2, 2008.

I collected Google Search trends, Facebook supporters, Youtube Channel subscribers, and basic website visitor stats collected from compete.com to see if there were any interesting patterns happening.
Throughout the course of the election, search trends were pretty similar between Franken and Coleman. However, right before the election, more people started searching for Franken at rates far beyond Coleman's. The graph above represents average search volume from Jan - Nov. 2. Anything above 1 represents larger than normal search volume for this period. So, by Nov. 2, there was a 24% larger search volume for Franken than Coleman. It is unclear what affect, if any, these searches had on voting outcome.

Looking at the top 8 MN cities by search volume, Franken lead in each except Prior Lake.

Election Results

Franken Coleman
Rochester 48% 51%
Minneapolis 69% 19%
St. Cloud 54% 42%
St. Paul 61% 25%
Hopkins 57% 38%
Mankato 60% 39%
Prior Lake 38% 57%
Duluth 62% 37%

There appears to be a relation between final election results and the volume of searches.

Looking at search trends through the election season and comparing them to the average of the polls conducted through the same time show even more relation. The last data point for the poll line is the final election result.

One interesting point however, is that there is a statistically significant and positive relationship between search volume and poll results. The more search volume, the higher the poll numbers.

It's obvious that Franken had a larger web presence than Coleman, but it is unclear how this presence translated into votes. For now, look at the data and make your own conclusions.

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