Back during the Democratic primary (which, when you think about it, feels like an entire lifetime ago) I looked briefly at how Google Trends, which shows the popularity of different search terms, so closely resembled the data coming out of the national pollsters. Google's search stats not only predicted the eventual outcome of the primary, but reflected the many twists and turns of that volatile race (this concept was independently expanded upon by Yale scholar Michael Giuffrida, whose report goes into far more detaily goodness).
Yet Google's numbers reflected nothing but passive search terms -- people may have been searching to get more information, to make a donation, or to find the latest hit piece. Their preference for a candidate had no bearing on the search volume, just the fact that they used the name.
The major polling firms, on the other hand, spent millions of dollars to get exact preferences from potential voters. But the data, whether it came from Google or it came from Rasmussen, mirrored each other.
Well today, with little more than a week left in the election cycle (and may I ad as an aside: thank god for that) it's worth another look.
Here's the numbers from Pollster.com, which averages all the national polls together. It's a snapshot of the race for the entire year:
And now the Google Trends report for the same timeframe:
And once again, you can see the ebb and flow of the campaign reflected -- the convention "bounce" for both men is clearly visible, as is the tightening of the race that followed, bringing McCain into an almost-perceptible lead briefly, before finally opening up into the clear Obama majority we see today.
Take the Pepsi challenge on the two charts, and you'd be hard pressed to guess which is which.
Which makes it all the more interesting to look at some of the key states in this campaign, over just the last 30 days:
and, McCain's make-it-or-break-it state of Pennsylvania
None of them paint a pretty portrait for McCain. Most clearly show a growing gulf. Those that don't may reflect McCain's last, best hope. But, if Google is to be believed, it's a slim one at best.
Is Google showing us the wisdom of the crowd this election? Just 11 more days to find out.