NEW DELHI: More than ideological clashes or party feuds, this election has been dominated by personal battles. The main event has been Narendra Modi against Rahul Gandhi but Modi against Mayawati, Mamata Banerjee and other regional leaders have featured as interesting sub-plots. On May 23rd, the winners of these battles will be announced. Until then search data from Google could provide insights on these leaders’ popularity during the election build-up.
Google Trends provides search volume data for terms and topics over time and is an increasingly relevant measure of popularity in India, especially in urban areas, where there has been a meteoric rise in internet access. For instance, a previous Plain Facts column highlighted how Google search data for Narendra Modi mirrored his ascendancy in Indian politics. While Narendra Modi is searched significantly more than any other leader, much of this search interest though could be driven by his role as Prime Minister.
A more relevant measure of popularity during election campaigns would be to consider search interest in Modi and other leaders during the election campaign itself. To do this, Mint analyzed Google Trends data for major political leaders in major cities in the one month before the city went to the polls.
The data shows that, across the board, Modi generated the most interest online. Amongst searches for Narendra Modi, Rahul Gandhi and regional leaders, in 49 out of 55 cities, searches for Modi accounted for more than 50% of all searches. For instance in Kolkata, amongst searches for Modi, Rahul Gandhi and Mamata Banerjee, 67% of searches were for Modi, 23% for Banerjee and 10% for Rahul Gandhi. In contrast, Rahul Gandhi is only searched the most in two cities in Kerala (Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode) which could be attributed to him contesting from Wayanad.
One of the few cities where Modi was not searched frequently was Hyderabad. Of all the searches for Narendra Modi, Rahul Gandhi and regional leaders (K.C.R Rao, Chandrababu Naidu and Jagan Mohan Reddy), searches for Modi only accounted for 15%. Interestingly, the most searched leader in Hyderabad was actually Andhra Pradesh’s Jagan Mohan Reddy of YSR Congress who accounted for more than half of all searches.
Extending the analysis to the national level for the two months since the Model Code of Conduct was put in place further emphasizes Modi’s popularity. At the national level, search interest in Modi dwarves Rahul Gandhi and peaks on 29th April, the fourth phase of polling. Google users are predominantly urban and more affluent residents and these findings corroborate other results showing that richer Indians have a greater affinity for the BJP. Despite the sample being skewed to urban and affluent Indians, the large population of online Indians means that Google searches remain a relevant measure of interest in different politicians.
While the bulk of the searches for Modi and Gandhi are seeking information about the leaders, such as speeches, several queries relate to major themes over the last two months. For instance, a common query related to Rahul Gandhi was ‘chowkidar chor’ while a common query for Modi was ‘journey of a common man’.
Rahul Gandhi is searched more than regional leaders but the search battle amongst regional leaders over the last two months has been more keenly contested. On an average, Mayawati has been searched the most followed by Mamata Banerjee. Of all the state leaders, Mayawati also enjoys the widest appeal with the greatest search interest outside her state. Interestingly, Priyanka Gandhi, though not a state leader, has been searched more than the regional leaders apart from Mayawati.
At the party-level, average search interest in BJP has been nearly double that of Congress in the last two months. However, over the last six months, Congress narrows the gap because of its success in the five state assembly elections in late 2018 when search interest in the party peaked.
Differences in search interest, though, say little about eventual winners. For instance, in the six months before the 2014 elections, search interest in the BJP was nearly 2.5 times that of Congress and BJP swept the elections. However, in the six months prior to 2009, search interest between the two parties were almost identical but it was Congress who secured victory.