Searching for a leader

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about what Google search data can tell us about public interest in my field of science. I thought it might be interesting to apply the same techniques to the current Labour Leadership elections.

Google Trends allows us to quantify who we are searching for, but also to understand where these searches are coming from. Both of these metrics could tell us a lot about the magnitude and breadth of appeal of the potential leaders.

Who are we Googling?

The answer is clear: Jeremy Corbyn. He's attracting 3x more search traffic that Liz Kendall, 4x more than Andy Burnham and 6.5x more than Yvette Cooper.

Our search interest in Jeremy peaked in 22nd July, closely followed by 13th August. These dates correspond with Tony Blair's interventions; initially Blair advised party members "if your heart is with Corbyn, get a transplant", followed by a plea "if you hate me, please don’t take Labour over the cliff edge". If I was running the Corbyn campaign, I'd be begging Blair for more interventions.

Rumour has it that Gordon Brown will back Yvette Cooper at a major speech on London's South Bank on Sunday. It may be that this fuels more interest in Corbyn, perhaps strengthening him further.

The other candidates are struggling. Over average over the past month Liz Kendall has attracted slightly more traffic than Andy Burnham, with Yvette Cooper trailing by some margin. However, the average data hide the recent trends: Cooper is gaining momentum and has generated roughly 2.5 times more search traffic than Burnham or Kendall in the last couple of days.

Who is speaking to the country?

There's no doubt that Jeremy Corbyn has attracted the largest search volume, but the data becomes very interesting when we study where these searches originated from.

Corbyn Kendall, Burnham & Cooper1

The data suggests that the only leadership candidate that is attracting significant interest outside London is Jeremy Corbyn. Bearing in mind that Labour's share of the vote in London increased by over 7% at the 2015 General Election, compared to only 1.5% nationally, it seems strategically flawed for Labour to play to a London crowd when it needs to focus on picking up votes elsewhere in the country.

Jeremy Corbyn is popular, we know that from recent polling data, but the geographical breadth of the interest he generates could be exactly what Labour need to win seats they lost in 2010 and 2015 and form a government in 2020.

  1. This map contains data for Liz Kendall search queries. The maps for Burnham and Cooper are identical, you can create them here.