5 Nov 2012

US presidential election: the swing states battle online

With the US presidential candidates racing through the swing states, Channel 4 News looks through the eyes of Google and Twitter at the key issues that could determine Tuesday’s election outcome.

With the US presidential candidates racing through the swing states, Channel 4 News looks through the eyes of Google and Twitter at the key issues that could determine tomorrow's election outcome.

As Barack Obama and Mitt Romney deliver their last arguments in the states which will probably decide the result of the tight presidential race, data from Google and Twitter show what people are discussing before the polls open.

Over the past week the most widely searched, government-related term across the United States on Google has been “Obama”, followed by “unemployment”, “military” and “Romney”. The figures do not demonstrate the direction in which US citizens will vote, merely who is attracting the most attention.

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However, swing state data from Google trends does show the issues that appear to be at the forefront of each community’s minds. The swing states will be crucial to determining the who the next US president will be, as shown by a Paths to the White House graphic created by the New York Times.

As with the countrywide picture, unemployment is a key issue for swing state voters. Over the past year it has been the most Googled government-related term in five out of the nine swing states.

For Mr Obama this could be a bonus – unemployment has fallen in the majority of the swing states in recent months. However, unemployment has also been one of the larger sticks with which Mr Romney has tried to beat his rival.

In the domestic policy presidential debate, held a month ago, Mr Romney pointed to “43 straight months with unemployment above 8 per cent” as proof of the incumbent president’s failings.

Another key issue is the army, whether it be Virginian voters searching for “navy” (Virginia is home to the US Naval base Navy Station Norfolk) or internet users in North Carolina, home to Fort Bragg, searching for “army”.

Barack Obama is generally considered to have won the third and final presidential debate, which addressed foreign policy and the military. He scored a particular hit on Mr Romney with his quip about “bayonets and horses”.

While Google trends can show the issues that may decide the outcome, a more immediate reaction can be found on Twitter. In Milwaukee, the largest city in the swing state of Wisconsin, the words “Barack” and “Obama” have been trending on the site this morning. Many of these tweets, like the one below, are Twitter users urging people to vote for Mr Obama, or announcing their support for him.

In Nevada the hashtag #NVdecides has been trending. The hashtag is one that is being used by Obama supporters across the state.

However, not all tweets referring to President Obama will be welcome. The below tweet has been retweeted in Charlotte, the largest city in North Carolina, to the point that both “Obama” and “Democratic” are trending there.

According to polling averages date from US political analyst Real Clear Politics, the president is leading in the race for the swing states. The data has the current president winning in seven of the nine swing states, and only losing out in North Carolina and Florida.

If Tuesday’s election follows this course, and the safer states vote as predicted, than Mr Obama would win his second term by a margin of around 70 electoral votes.