Mapping the „Search Agenda:‟ A
Citizen-Centric Approach to
Political Information Flows in
Elections
Filippo Trevisan
Unive...
2

The Voter Ecology Project:
 Project team: Andrew Hoskins, Sarah Oates, Filippo
Trevisan, Dounia Mahlouly.
 Exploring ...
Informational Environment in
Elections – The story so far:

Traditional
News Media

Political
Parties/Candidates

Citizens...
A Citizen-Centric Approach: Information
gathering as purposive behaviour
Unexpected searches
Expected searches

Citizen Ag...
5

Mapping the „Search Agenda:‟
 Unexpected searches are user-driven and do not reflect
the priorities of journalists/edi...
6

Mapping the „Search Agenda:‟
 Traditional pol comm scholarship: content analysis of news media and
election manifestos...
7

And in practice? Searching for leaders in the
2010 UK general election:
120

100

Google Trends score

80

60

David Ca...
pr
29 - 10
-A
pr
30 - 10
-A
p
01 r- 10
-M
a
02 y-10
-M
a
03 y-10
-M
a
04 y-10
-M
a
05 y-10
-M
a
06 y-10
-M
a
07 y-10
-M
a
...
-A
p
29 r-10
-A
p
30 r-10
-A
01 p r- 1
-M 0
a
02 y - 1
-M 0
a
03 y - 1
-M 0
a
04 y - 1
-M 0
a
05 y - 1
-M 0
a
06 y - 1
-M ...
Google Search score

Thematic Leap? Did voters search
for info about immigration policy?

 In the U.S., Mitt Romney‟s “bi...
11

In conclusion:
 Google Trends enables us to approach the study of information flows in
elections from the point of vi...
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Mapping the 'Search Agenda' in Elections - ECREA Comms & Democracy 2013 Conference

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Presentation about the Voter Ecology Project (www.voterecology.com) at the ECREA Communication and Democracy Section annual conference, 11-12 Oct. 2013, Munich, Germany.

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  • Traditionally, two driving forces determine informational environment in elections: news media and political parties/candidates. Political communication concentrates on these and their interaction. Citizens/voters are seen as “audience” and cast at the receiving end of informational cycles.This changes with growth of online information and popularity of tools that allow voters to do their own information gathering.While new, interactive role for citizens is acknowledged, what we know still revolves overwhelmingly around information supply side: we know everything of what Obama and Romney tweeted and said, but not enough about whether that’s what people were interested in – did they listen, or instead turn their attention somewhere else?
  • A more useful way of conceptualising the current informational environment in elections is as a struggle among three competing, but not necessarily conflicting, agendas. These are defined on the basis of the actors that are primarily responsible for choosing the issues that populate them.Key is to understand that in the Internet era citizens/voters are more than passive information receivers. When citizens gather, consume, and interpret information, they do so in accordance to their own priorities and beliefs. Search engines sit right at the centre of this new model. They provide users with tools they trust to sort through virtually limitless information and build their own “elections agenda.”Key question: what lies in the citizen (search) circle that does not intersect with the other two? i.e. unexpected or unaccounted for searches. Also, looking at this from the perspective of campaign managers: what lies in campaigns circle that does not make it onto the other two agendas? (e.g policy flops).Dynamic environment – issues can move across, but we need to understand how and possibly why: map informational trajectories. How to go about it?
  • Policy elephants in the room: e.g. immigration during 2010 UK election campaign. Salient to voters (second most important issue according to BES), but politicians do not among candidate priorities.Gaffes, gossip, scandal: while of obvious interest to the news media, search can follow different patterns from news media coverage. Do searches for controversial episodes resemble quick bushfires? Or rather spread over a longer period of time?Thematic leaps are connected to gaffes/gossip/scandal: do voters follow up on such episodes to search for policy-related thematic information? This could lead to the inclusion of a policy elephant in the room in the search agenda.Generation-specific issues: search may reflect more closely the priorities of younger generations, which may not align too neatly with the issues covered in traditional mass media as well as election manifestos/campaign messages. Could be of particular relevance in countries where politicians exert a strong influence over media outlets (think Italy).Q: how to compare the three agendas?
  • The temptation here would be to map both election coverage in news media and using party/candidate websites as proxies for the campaigns agenda. However, one has to ask whether a complete knowledge of news media coverage and campaigns agenda can realistically be achieved, or is in fact necessary. In addition, this brings us back to the beginning: placing excessive emphasis on the traditional ‘supply side’ in analysing the elections informational environment.Instead: start from citizens/users. Identify key moments in which the demand for political information is at its top/users appear to be be particularly interested in political content.A useful tool to assess this is Google Trends. 1. Identify “Search events”; 2. then focus on them by analysing “real world” events (i.e. what might have happened that pushed up political info demand), mass media coverage, politicians/campaigns messages and/or reactions.Nexus analysis (Scollon and Scollon, 2004): “the study of the semiotic cycles of people, objects and discourses in and through moments of socio-cultural importance.”But how does it work in practice? Example to help clarify.
  • A good place to start to find out when demand for online political information is at its peak is by exploring search trends for party leaders.A few interesting points emerge immediately:Election announcement = search watershed: sparks online interest surge (6th April)Televised leader debates clearly connected to search peaks, tendency for search rises to be spurred by TV/mass media events across all countries, although with substantially different modalities (UK: immediate search – complement debate info; US: search peak on following day – replay and reflect on what was said; Italy: TV appearances by leaders push up search rates in initial campaign phase, esp. Berlusconi and Monti, but have substantially less impact as election gets closer)Nick Clegg trend confirms fundamental role of debates to his visibility and that he “won” the debates among search users.However, even more interesting and somewhat odd-looking: search for info about Gordon Brown peaks on 28th April. What happened then that spurred the most significant rise in searches for information about a political leader (except for the day in which GB resigned/DC was appointed as new PM)?
  • Huge media hype. However, no empirical study on the coverage of this episode.Seemingly a trivial episode, but does it signal something more substantial? Why did people search for information about it? Did it spur any other search waves on related issues?Let’s compare the popularity of bigot-gate on the search agenda to this episode’s level of coverage on British newspapers (NewsBank). Frequencies useful, but to clarify further data can be re-scaled into a popularity index from 0-100.
  • This is what we obtained combining the two graphs above. This is just a start, but provides some useful cues that will inform further research about the informational trajectory of this episode:Unsurprisingly, the most intense period of search is the same in which bigot-gate constituted headline news. Search peaks first (28th Apr) than headlines (29th Apr.), although this may be due to the exclusion of broadcast content from this preliminary analysis;On 30th April, bigot-gate basically leaves the ‘search agenda’. Sharp decline, while mentions of the episode in all-txt continue to rise (peak on 30th April).Although searches focused on the episode nearly halt on 1st May, further peaks in newspaper coverage: 2nd May, 3rd May (headlines), 6th May (election day), 7th May.Initial impression: as online interest in the episode per se declines very quickly, news media embrace it as integral part of the campaign or indeed commentary on Brown and the Labour Party – move from headlines (news per se) to body text of articles (attribute/commentary). Also, return to headlines following the election is conceivably linked to importance attributed to the episode in analysing election results and hypothesising their causes.But is this the full picture? Possibly even more important to ask whether, past the initial search frenzy, users were prompted to take a thematic leap and search for related policy issues. In particular, did users search for information about immigration policy (a central theme in ‘bigot-gate’)?
  • Although immigration was high among the priorities of voters (see BES 2012 results), parties and leaders refrained from making it a major campaign theme. Both commentators and scholars claimed that bigot-gate suddenly pushed immigration policy onto the agenda, but did it really?Overall, no substantial increase in searches for immigration issues following gaffe, most of which concentrated on immigration technicalities for Britons leaving the UK (visas, etc.) according to Google Trends associated terms. In addition, Google Trends records suggest that users searched for info on immigration policy more frequently in the week prior to the gaffe than in the one that followed.Results in contrast with the arguments of those who claimed that bigot-gate established immigration as key campaign topic. Instead, they seem to support those claiming that mass media narrative associated this episode with GB dysfunctional personality/leadership and inability to connect with ordinary people.One episode for which we also tried the analysis and that returned opposite results was Mitt Romney’s “binders full of women” gaffe during the US presidential debates in October 2012.
  • Mapping the 'Search Agenda' in Elections - ECREA Comms & Democracy 2013 Conference

    1. 1. Mapping the „Search Agenda:‟ A Citizen-Centric Approach to Political Information Flows in Elections Filippo Trevisan University of Glasgow ECREA Symposium „(Mis)understanding Political Participation‟ Munich, 12th Oct. 2013 www.voterecology.com  www.filippotrevisan.net
    2. 2. 2 The Voter Ecology Project:  Project team: Andrew Hoskins, Sarah Oates, Filippo Trevisan, Dounia Mahlouly.  Exploring search engine use in elections in established democracies (United Kingdom, United States), challenged democracies (Italy) and transitional states (Egypt)  Part of the ESRC-funded “Google Data Analytics Social Science Research” initiative developed during the Google Forum UK (2010-12) 1. Research framework: A citizen-centric approach 2. Methods and preliminary results: Mapping the „search agenda‟ with Google Trends and nexus analysis www.voterecology.com  www.filippotrevisan.net
    3. 3. Informational Environment in Elections – The story so far: Traditional News Media Political Parties/Candidates Citizens (“Audience”) www.voterecology.com  www.filippotrevisan.net 3
    4. 4. A Citizen-Centric Approach: Information gathering as purposive behaviour Unexpected searches Expected searches Citizen Agenda (Search Agenda) News media Agenda Campaigns Agenda www.voterecology.com  www.filippotrevisan.net 4
    5. 5. 5 Mapping the „Search Agenda:‟  Unexpected searches are user-driven and do not reflect the priorities of journalists/editors and candidates/parties. They could focus on, for example: - Policy „elephants in the room‟ - Gaffes, gossip and/or scandal - „Thematic leaps‟ - Generation-specific issues  Q: How can we compare the three agendas? www.voterecology.com  www.filippotrevisan.net
    6. 6. 6 Mapping the „Search Agenda:‟  Traditional pol comm scholarship: content analysis of news media and election manifestos/websites (e.g. Gibson and Ward, 2003; Gibson, 2013; Lilleker and Jackson, 2011)  But: resource-intensive and potentially distortive: applying old frames to a new context.  Turn the process upside down: start from citizens/users 1. Identify moments in which demand for online political information is at its peak through Google Trends (google.com/trends) 2. Examine key „search events‟ in detail through nexus analysis (Scollon and Scollon, 2004) to establish what boosted user-interest in politics, whether the issue(s) involved was also high on the news and/or campaign agendas, and map its trajectory across both new and traditional media. www.voterecology.com  www.filippotrevisan.net
    7. 7. 7 And in practice? Searching for leaders in the 2010 UK general election: 120 100 Google Trends score 80 60 David Cameron Gordon Brown Nick Clegg 40 20 10 /2 0 10 31 /0 5 /2 0 10 24 /0 5 /2 0 10 17 /0 5 /2 0 10 10 /0 5 /2 0 10 03 /0 5 /2 0 10 26 /0 4 /2 0 10 19 /0 4 /2 0 10 12 /0 4 /2 0 10 05 /0 4 /2 0 10 29 /0 3 /2 0 10 22 /0 3 /2 0 10 15 /0 3 /2 0 /0 3 08 01 /0 3 /2 0 10 0 www.voterecology.com  www.filippotrevisan.net
    8. 8. pr 29 - 10 -A pr 30 - 10 -A p 01 r- 10 -M a 02 y-10 -M a 03 y-10 -M a 04 y-10 -M a 05 y-10 -M a 06 y-10 -M a 07 y-10 -M a 08 y-10 -M a 09 y-10 -M a 10 y-10 -M a 11 y-10 -M a 12 y-10 -M a 13 y-10 -M ay -1 0 28 -A 13/05/2010 12/05/2010 11/05/2010 10/05/2010 09/05/2010 08/05/2010 07/05/2010 06/05/2010 05/05/2010 04/05/2010 03/05/2010 02/05/2010 01/05/2010 30/04/2010 29/04/2010 28/04/2010 27/04/2010 Bigot-gate: Search patterns vs. news media coverage 40 250 Bigot-gate searches 20 100 50 0 www.voterecology.com  www.filippotrevisan.net 8 Bigot-gate popularity on Google.co.uk 120 Bigot-gate searches 100 80 60 Bigot-gate in the British press 200 0 150 All Text Lead Paragraph Headline
    9. 9. -A p 29 r-10 -A p 30 r-10 -A 01 p r- 1 -M 0 a 02 y - 1 -M 0 a 03 y - 1 -M 0 a 04 y - 1 -M 0 a 05 y - 1 -M 0 a 06 y - 1 -M 0 a 07 y - 1 -M 0 a 08 y - 1 -M 0 a 09 y - 1 -M 0 a 10 y - 1 -M 0 a 11 y - 1 -M 0 a 12 y - 1 -M 0 a 13 y - 1 -M 0 ay -1 0 28 Bigot-gate Popularity Bigot-gate popularity on the „Search Agenda‟ and the „News Media Agenda:‟ 120 100 80 60 UK Press (All text) UK Press (Headlines) 40 Google.co.uk 20 0 www.voterecology.com  www.filippotrevisan.net 9
    10. 10. Google Search score Thematic Leap? Did voters search for info about immigration policy?  In the U.S., Mitt Romney‟s “binders full of women” gaffe had opposite results (i.e. the average search popularity for info about women‟s rights/gender gap etc. increased following the episode) www.voterecology.com  www.filippotrevisan.net 10
    11. 11. 11 In conclusion:  Google Trends enables us to approach the study of information flows in elections from the point of view of citizens, fundamentally integrating and possibly overthrowing what we already know on the basis of news coverage and campaign communication analysis.  Exploring search patterns with Google Trends provides opportunities to review events that have become „crystallised‟ in academic and media literature from a different perspective, possibly de-bunking speculative assumptions. However…  Google Trends only provides a limited amount of information. As such, it is useful to generate cues and raise new questions, but should only be used in conjunction with other methods as part of a comprehensive inquiry strategy.  In addition, a useful longitudinal data series is best generated at the end of a cycle of events (e.g. election campaign). Yet, it can be difficult to map the media trajectories of events and messages retroactively. www.voterecology.com  www.filippotrevisan.net

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