Search Reveals Who Cares Most About Red Hot Election Issues
Every election cycle courts controversy, but the 2016 campaign has been particularly fraught with divisive ideas and scandals. From Trump’s plans to ban Muslim immigrants and build a Wall on the Southern border to Ted Cruz’s frequent promises to defund Planned Parenthood to the nuances of Hillary Clinton’s email scandal, candidates have emphasized these contentious issues to pump up their own bases, even at the risk of jeopardizing other groups.
But how are voters responding to these ideas? That’s the question Quantcast, a company that provides online publishers with data about their audiences, was hoping to answer with its recent analysis. Quantcast studied Americans’ search habits along demographic and political lines to find out which groups tend to be most interested in which issues.
To determine demographics, Quantcast uses a core set of demographic data from established data providers. This is data about a known set of people, provided by things like surveys and credit card transactions. Quantcast takes that data, which it knows to be true, and builds a model that can examine a person’s browsing behaviors, and predict the likelihood of that person being a certain age, a certain gender, and other demographic traits. With that model in place, it can analyze new browsing behavior, and with a high likelihood, determine a person’s demographics. This type of prediction is how most ad targeting happens online.
Of course, polls can tell you which demographics are more likely to support which ideas. But because Quantcast is measuring what topics people are searching for on their own, and not just how they feel about a topic when asked, Quantcast’s data can be a better indicator of what people really care about.
“It’s capturing active interest,” says Art Prateepvanich, Quantcast’s head of product marketing, “and that’s something polling doesn’t do.”
Plus, there’s a lot more data than there would be in your average poll. In this study, Quantcast analyzed tens of thousands of people’s search habits on all search engines. What the company found is that some of these controversial issues—particularly the ones proposed by Trump—are even more engaging to the opposition than they are to the base.
Take, for instance, the idea of the border wall: Quantcast analyzed the search terms “Mexico wall,” “Mexico border,” and “Mexico/Trump,” and found that, based on search volume, Hispanic Democrats are by far the most interested, moreso than, say, white Republicans, who polls say are the most likely to support that policy. In fact, Democrats overall were far more likely to search for those terms than Republicans were.
The results were similar for Trump’s plan to ban and deport Muslims. Quantcast analyzed the terms “Muslim ban,” “close mosques,” “deport Muslim,” and “Muslim/Trump” and found that Democrats’ search interest far exceeded Republicans’.
“The fact of the matter is these two issues are clearly motivating negative sentiment on the part of Democrats significantly more than they’re motivating the Republican electorate at large,” says Jag Duggal, senior vice president of product management at Quantcast.
It stands to reason that Hispanic Americans would be most interested in the border wall, of course. After all, it is but one more impediment to immigration, which is an issue that affects Hispanic communities more than others. But that logic did not hold up when it came to other issues, like defunding Planned Parenthood.
In that case, despite the fact that women would be more deeply effected by such a policy change, Quantcast found that Republican men were the most likely to search terms related to defunding the non-profit. Interestingly, female Republicans were among the least engaged of all groups.
For other issues, like Clinton’s emails, the ties between interest and demographic were more difficult to decrypt, like the fact that both Democratic and Republican men were more likely to search the email controversy than women of either side.
But perhaps what’s most telling about Quantcast’s findings is the fact that independents were the least likely to search for any of these issues across the board. And yet, independents are the largest voter demographic in the country. It’s as strong a sign of any that by the time the general election rolls around, the more radical candidates may need to change their tunes.