Could Google be this election's true crystal ball?

A visitor uses a cell phone in front of the Google logo. One researcher uses Google to track which voters are likely to go to the polls and the candidate they'll choose.

There are a ton of polls out there trying to predict what's going to happen on November 6th. But do those polls really say that much about the average voter and the issues that are most on their minds?

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz is a Ph.D student in economics at Harvard. He's tracking what voters are searching for in Google to find out how they'll vote in November. Stephens-Davidowitz says his method is more accurate than polls that simply ask voters to respond to questions.

"People tend to be a lot more honest with a search engine...as opposed to polls," says Stephens-Davidowitz.

One surprising finding? There are more search engine queries for "Paul Ryan Shirtless" than "Paul Ryan Budget." Stephens-Davidowitz says is an indicator of a key problem with polls. Voters may say they want elections to focus more on policy but in truth, they may be more interested in other details.

Stephens-Davidowitz wrote a more complete analysis of his findings for the New York Times.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.
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Kai, you asked how close Google could focus in on you and the answer is "your exact longitude and latitude". It's called the Geolocation API Specification; your browser will tell the server exactly where you are. Plus, with the profile Google has of you they know to a very high degree of confidence what type of person you are when you make the search query.

So maybe this is constantly changing and maybe it has something to do with the other things we search for on our respective computers (which may be shared with other users), but on my Google autocomplete, "Paul Ryan marathon" comes before "Paul Ryan shirtless." "Paul Ryan budget" is still third.

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