Reilly Lorenz, Jacob Beck, Sophie Horneber, Florian Keusch, Christopher Antoun
Google Trends as a tool for public opinion research: An illustration of the perceived threats of immigration

Pp. 193-206 in: Steffen Pötzschke, Sebastian Rinken (Eds.): Migration Research in a Digitalized World: Using Innovative Technology to Tackle Methodological Challenges. 2022. Cham: Springer
[IMISCOE Research Series]

To gather public opinion data on sensitive topics in real-time, researchers are exploring the use of Internet search data such as Google Trends (GT). First, this chapter describes the characteristics and nature of GT data, and then provides a case study that examines the salience of perceived threats related to immigration in Germany based on the share of Google search queries that include language about these threats. Last, we discuss the advantages and possible challenges of utilizing GT data in social scientific research. We used the national polling results for the German right-wing party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD)—which runs on a largely anti-immigrant platform—as a criterion measure. GT data did not consistently predict polling data in the expected direction in real-time, but it was consistently predictive of future polling trends (35–104 weeks later) at a moderate level (r = .25–.50), although the size of the correlations varied across time periods and groups of keywords. Our mixed results highlight the low reliability of GT data, but also its largely untapped potential as a leading indicator of public opinion, especially on sensitive topics such as the perceived threats of immigration.