How Google Trends data will fuel #Electionland tomorrow

Voting issues in Google Trends data.

Tomorrow, as Americans go to the polls, more than 650 journalism students, 450 journalists, 250 media organizations, two nonprofits and seven technology companies will come together to work on Electionland, a collaborative reporting initiative to provide insights into what’s taking place at polls across the country.

By collecting data signals from Google Trends, social media and election hotlines, Electionland will create the largest real time comprehensive look into voting issues in US history. And for the first time during a U.S. Presidential election, Google Trends will be real-time. So we thought, what if we could use Google search trends data to see if, for example, there’s a search spike in a particular city for voting machine errors or long lines?

We created the Electionland Google Trends map to visualize the timely polling information that’s happening around the country. To ensure the map includes the most relevant trends, we compiled a list of ways English and Spanish-speaking voters might indicate voting issues through their search queries on Election Day, by looking at historical data from 2012 Election, Super Tuesday 2016, and early voting 2016. We combined hundreds of the most relevant search terms around the following voting issues:

We worked with Pitch Interactive to build the real-time search trends map. Here’s how it works:

  • Circles appear on the map when search interest in a particular voting issue is above the national average for a city or town. The bigger the circle, the bigger the gap between the national average and the city. A really big circle means a city has search interest in a particular topic well above the national average.
  • As the day goes on, the earlier circles will diminish in size although the map is cumulative — it continues to build up from when the polls open until they close.
  • Click on an issue to turn it off and on as you explore the map.
  • If search interest has spiked recently, it will begin to flash. The data is pulled every 15 minutes and the spike is calculated off the previous 15 minutes of search interest.
  • When there is a sudden spike in the current 15 minute period, it will appear in a ticker at the bottom of the screen.

Watch the map throughout the day and you’ll get a real sense of how these voting issues are being searched. You can also hit replay to see how the trends evolved throughout the day.

The goal of Electionland is to cover access to the ballot and problems that prevent people from exercising their right to vote. By exploring with us on Tuesday, you’ll be part of an experiment to see if data can can shed light on some of the biggest issues on the biggest day in the election cycle.

Simon Rogers is data editor at the Google News Lab and director of the Data Journalism Awards. The team also working on Electionland data at the News Lab is: Heather Craig, Danielle Bowers, Olivia Ma, Shlomo Urbach and Jennifer Lee