Google Search Data Pinpoints Voter Intimidation, Election Interference

Google Trends Electionland

A Google Trends 2016 election-related map suggests rampant voter intimidation in the Los Angeles area, Florida, and parts of the Northeast (especially New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey). These intimidation reports seem to be occurring in locations where diverse and non-diverse populations collide, which is perhaps unsurprising. But that’s not all this map can tell you.

ProPublica, in conjunction with the Google Trends team and data visualization studio Pitch Interactive, produced the informative map: Google Trends Electionland enables you to monitor election issues across the country in real time. These issues include voter intimidation, long wait times, voting machine problems, provisional ballots, and inactive voters statuses. Each issue can interfere with someone’s right to vote.

Google’s harvesting the data from search information. Leading up to Tuesday, a team of journalists compiled a list of searches related to each of the five voting issues, and did so in both English and Spanish. The map tracks these searches live, representing rampant search interest in the form of emanating dots.

You can use the map however you please: Some are using it as a unique tool to monitor the election, while others are looking to explain why these issues are arising. For instance: Someone shared a link to the map on Y Combinator’s Hacker News feed, and one inquisitive commenter found a rough correlation between intimidation reports and a demographics map. While it’s not a hard-and-fast rule, the trend seems to be that, where racially diverse communities exist in close proximity to racially non-diverse communities, people are searching about voter intimidation.

Green areas "have a white, non-Hispanic population above the national mean of 79.6%," according to Counties shown in brown "have a white, non-Hispanic population below that mean." 

Imgur / CensusScope

If you see a 300-percent increase in voter intimidation searches in Pennsylvania, it does not necessarily mean that someone’s intimidating voters in Pennsylvania; it does mean that people are searching for answers to questions related to the issue.

“The map does not show verified cases of voter problems, just increased search interest in them,” the map’s creators write. It’s a fascinating tool, and you can do with it whatever you so desire.

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