With the national elections just a couple of months away, Google launched a dedicated Philippine elections page showing the top queries, topics, and most-searched presidential and vice presidential candidates.
Leading the most-Googled presidential hopeful race from March 4 to 10 is Vice President Leni Robredo with 46% of searches, while Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio topped the VP counterpart with 47% of searches.
On social media, some of Robredo's supporters have been interpreting the data as a possible indicator of the results of the upcoming elections.
Google trends in the last 90 days. VP @lenirobredo is being searched everywhere, even in the “united north and south” compared to lbm who is being searched only in ilocos and davao. Google trends is a big predictor of voter interest. pic.twitter.com/WVQ84daJI1— Jan Argy (@JanArgy) March 7, 2022
Google, however, gave a disclaimer about this data, saying it is "not a poll or survey and does not reflect voting intentions." The page aims to "merely reflect people's search interest about particular topics at a local level."
What, then, can we learn from this elections page tool?
Searches and interest
According to independent big data analyst Wilson Chua, the tool merely gives insight on how many people are actively searching for information about a candidate, which signals interest at a particular time.
He cited a November 2020 study wherein Google trends have previously predicted the outcome of polls in the US with former presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump generating more searches than their rivals during the election period.
"What the study is saying is that there is a strong correlation between that interest and the eventual outcome of the presidential race," he told PhilSTAR L!fe.
During the 2016 elections, Chua used Twitter trends to predict President Rodrigo Duterte's landslide win. Out of the other presidentiables, Duterte received the most number of tweets from Twitter users with more than 300 followers.
On the other hand, former Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) undersecretary Mon Ibrahim believes search interests are not representative of voter preference.
"People do a search because they want to know what’s happening rather than people search because they want to know how one candidate is doing," he said. "I don’t think the search trends are actually representative of voter preferences."
Chua also noted that there are several limitations to Google searches as an outcome predictor as not all voters are online users and not all online users are voters. In addition, not all supporters go out to cast their votes.
Based on data from Datareportal's Digital 2022 report, 76.01 million Filipinos are internet users as of January 2022, with the country's internet penetration rate at 68% while 32% remained offline. The site noted that this figure might be even higher due to internet adoption amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Google is generally the go-to platform as a search engine. It’s the de facto platform for doing searches. Most probably, the rate or level of Filipino internet users will almost equal the number of Filipinos using Google," former Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) undersecretary Mon Ibrahim said.
He added that internet users also go to Google for politics-related news due to the proliferation of fake information on social media platforms like Facebook.
Using different search terms when comparing interest on Google Trends also yields different results. For instance, the term "Leni Robredo" is more searched by users than "Bongbong Marcos," but just using the terms "Robredo" and "Marcos" will yield a different outcome, with the latter leading instead.
This could be due to people looking up other Marcoses, like the former dictator Ferdinand Marcos, Imelda Marcos, or Bongbong's son Sandro, as indicated by related queries under the search term.