Brexit: a search story
On the 23rd June 52% of the UK voted to leave the EU. One of the biggest events for UK democracy in a generation, one that will surely cause an online frenzy. This analysis will look at some of the most prominent topics surrounding Brexit and see what, when and how often people search for these topics on Google. This analysis, at its core, will try to understand how the public feels about a world where the UK is no longer part of the EU.
There were many topics that were discussed pre and post referendum, this analysis has handpicked a selection that appears to be most prominent.
As with any political debate, politicians are the focus point. They are the face of the campaign, whether they stand up to people expectations or just embarrass themselves. The EU referendum saw a number of politicians already in the lime light and some that have barely been mentioned prior. In all cases there was a plethora of searches in May to July 2016 for the leading faces of the EU referendum in and outside of the UK.
The chart below shows that over the last 12 months, David Cameron has had the most searches which is not surprising considering he was the Prime Minister for a majority of this period.
However, when we look at this data over time we can see how interest in different politicians changed in the run up and post referendum.
The above graph highlights some very interesting facts about the Online audience.
Jeremy Corbyn is 3rd in the totals table however during the referendum months he is the least searched politician. This fact doesn’t help him after he was accused of not being actively involved in the referendum debate.
Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson, Nicola Sturgeon and Theresa May searches at the end of 2015 were relatively miniscule to that labours and the Conservatives leading party members. In fact, only 7% of Theresa May searches happened prior to May 2016. She was hardly heard of globally before the referendum.
In June 2016, the month of the referendum, Boris Johnson climbed to the top of the leader board with a 3.4 million month-on-month jump in searches. Nigel Farage almost matched David Cameron’s 2 million month-on-month increase in searches.
In July it’s almost as if all politicians were forgotten about with the exception of Theresa May whose searches jumped up 4 million from June to July. This correlates with the Tory leadership contest and Theresa May being elected as new Prime Minister.
During the Referendum there were numerous question being ask on Google about David Cameron.
Below are the top 10 searched keywords during the referendum in June 2016:
|how old is david cameron||9900|
|when did david cameron became prime minister||2400|
|what party is david cameron in||2400|
|where is david cameron today||1600|
|how tall is david cameron||1300|
|where does david cameron live||1300|
|how much does david cameron earn||1300|
|how long has david cameron been in office||1300|
|is david cameron related to the queen||1000|
|when was david cameron elected||880|
What is interesting about the above is there are not very many politically related questions. The main themes are around David Cameron’s physical characteristics, his political party, where he lives, his wages, relation to the Queen and even what football team he supports.
Below are the top 10 most asked questions about Boris Johnson during the EU referendum in June 2016:
|is boris johnson married||8100|
|how old is boris johnson||6600|
|where is boris||6600|
|where does boris johnson live||5400|
|where is boris johnson today||3600|
|is boris johnson turkish||2900|
|how tall is boris johnson||1900|
|where is boris johnson from||1600|
|is boris johnson gay||1300|
|is boris johnson conservative||1300|
Some questions are similar to that of David Cameron’s, particularly his physical characteristics and where he lives. There are deviations such as his original nationality, sexual orientation and ‘where has he gone’ potentially relating to his disappearance from the leadership race after the referendum result.
Below are the top 10 most asked questions about Nigel Farage during the EU referendum:
|is nigel farage an mep||4400|
|nigel farage who are you||2900|
|how old is nigel farage||1900|
|is nigel farage racist||1900|
|where does nigel farage live||1600|
|how much is nigel farage worth||880|
|where is nigel farage from||880|
|how tall is nigel farage||720|
|farage who are you||720|
|is nigel farage married||590|
People seem to be obsessed with understanding politician’s physical characteristics. With the exception of these questions, the themes around Nigel Farage includes his status with the EU, his ethical believes, his wealth and if he’s an alcoholic (probably related to the fact that he’s always filmed in a pub).
Below are the top 8 most asked questions about Theresa May during the month she became the new Prime Minister:
|how old is theresa may||60500|
|is theresa may married||8100|
|how old is teresa may||6600|
|what is home secretary||1000|
|what is a home secretary||880|
|what is the home secretary||880|
|what does theresa may do||480|
|how to contact theresa may||260|
Unfortunately, Google Keyword Planner only had 8 questions about Theresa May and the biggest differentiating questions are around her post as Home Secretary prior to becoming Prime Minister.
That being said, there where 15k searched questions related to the term ‘new prime minister’ in July 2016. Below are the top 10 questions:
|who will be the next prime minister||5400|
|who is the prime minister||2900|
|who is prime minister||2400|
|who is the new prime minister||1000|
|who is the current prime minister||390|
|who is our new prime minister||390|
|what is a prime minister||260|
|who the new prime minister||260|
|who will be the next prime minister of uk||260|
|what is the prime minister||210|
One of the leading slogans for the Remain Campaign was that each household would lose £4,000 a year if Britain left the EU as a result of the economy shrinking. This fear of the UK’s economy declining after a Brexit vote is obvious in the world of search.
Below is a view of UK average search volume for keywords relating to ‘uk economy’:
As we can see after the vote to leave the search volume increase by 200% month-on-month suggesting that the UK’s economy was on the minds of thousands of people.
Below are the top 10 questions relating to ‘uk economy’ during the month of June 2016:
|what is the gdp of the uk||480|
|what is the uk gdp||480|
|what is uk gdp||480|
|what is gdp uk||480|
|how big is the uk economy||390|
|how is the uk economy doing||170|
|how big is uk economy||170|
|how much is the uk economy worth||140|
|how is the british economy doing||90|
|what is the gdp of uk||90|
People are showing an interest in the scale of the UKs economy as well as showing concern over the state of the economy.
The economy was a big talking point during and after the referendum and had a variety of sub-topics discussed below.
Immediately after the vote to leave the EU, the Pound Sterling fell. This drop was reflected in search.
Below is a graph showing the Global search interest in the value of the Pound and Euro:
Prior to the referendum the value of the euro was more on people’s minds than the Pound, however this soon changed at the point when Britain voted to leave the EU. From May to June 2016 searches related to ‘pound value’ rose by 644k searches but has since quickly declined. The Euro Value also saw an increase in searches at the point Britain voted to leave rising by 66k searches month-on-month.
Unlike other search terms in this analysis, search terms relating to ‘interest rates’ dipped prior to June 2016 and a have since seen a sharp increase in search interest. Below is a graph detailing the search interest of ‘interest rate’ related terms over the last 12 months.
The keywords driving this increase in interest are related to mortgage interest rates, student loan interest rates, bank interest rates and loan interest rates.
Similar to ‘interest rates’ related keywords, ‘retail sales uk’ related search terms dipped prior to June 2016 and a have since seen a sharp increase in search interest. Below is a graph detailing the search interest of ‘retail sales uk’ related terms over the last 12 months.
The keywords driving this increase in interest are related to retail sales and ONS (Office of National Statistics).
Bank of England
Searches relating to ‘bank of england’ appeared to be at normal levels in the run up to the referendum despite it releasing various statements about the state of the economy if England voted to leave. Yet, during and the months after searches rose significantly.
A closer look at the keywords driving this trend narrowed down to the Bank of England interest rates.
One of the key contributors to the UKs economy is the housing market and one of the fears on people mind was whether or not the value of property will change if Britain voted to leave. This was apparent in what people were searching.
People searching about the UKs housing market started to incline in the run up to the referendum with a significant increase in June 2016. This shows one of the many concerns that people had when Britain voted to leave the EU.
This was even reflected in people buying houses with June seeing an unusual drop in house buying searches which was not seen the previous year:
However, once people were reassured about the financial situation of the UK after the vote to leave then house buying searches started to rise again in July and August. At this point you would normally see a decline in the run up to Christmas.
Searches surrounding key topics of economy appeared normal in run up to the referendum indicating that globally there was less worry about the UK leaving the EU. However, when the vote to leave came through the searches around the UKs Economy rose significantly and in some cases continue to rise. People were particularly interested in the value of the Pound much more than the value of the Euro. Bank of England interest rates, mortgage rates, student loan and loan rates were also at the forefront of people’s minds after the vote to leave.
One of the most significant images that came out after the referendum displayed which areas of the county voted to leave and those that voted to stay.
The majority of Scotland voted to remain in the EU whereas the votes in England toppled the vote the other way leading to the final verdict. This fact was played upon by Nicola Sturgeon, Scotlands First Minister, who indicated that another Scottish Independence vote was on the table. This obviously made headlines and therefore kicked off an influx of searches about a Scottish referendum.
Below is a table showing the volume of searches for keywords relating to the ‘scottish referendum’.
As we can see a significant increase in searches appeared immediately after the vote to leave which surprisingly fell as quick as it climbed. The most searched terms in June were related to the Scottish referendum that took place in 2014 with terms such as ‘scottish referendum result’ and ‘scottish referendum 2014’ which obtained 40,000 and 5,400 searches for the month respectively.
Below are the top 10 most searched questions about the Scottish Referendum in June 2016:
|is scotland in the uk||1600|
|is scotland independent||720|
|how many voters in scotland||480|
|is scotland an independent country||210|
|why does scotland want independence||170|
|why do scotland want independence||170|
|who can vote in scottish referendum||170|
|why should scotland be independent||110|
|how likely is scottish independence||110|
|scottish referendum who can vote||110|
Unfortunately, after the vote to leave the EU there was an increase in racial hate crimes according to the ONS. This spurred on a flurry of searches not just from the UK but across the globe.
Searches relating to ‘racism’ dramatically increased globally at the time of the referendum with ‘brexit racism’ being searched 22k times in the month of June. Other high searched terms include ‘nigel farage racist’, ‘racist attacks uk’, ‘brexit hate crime’ and ‘is Britain racist’.
The most searched questions about racism in the UK include:
|is britain racist||1600|
|is england racist||390|
|is the uk racist||390|
|is racism illegal in the uk||260|
|is uk racist||260|
|how many black people in uk||170|
|is scotland racist||170|
|is there racism in england||70|
|is it illegal to be racist in the uk||70|
|is racism still a problem in the uk||20|
|is racism illegal in uk||20|
Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty is the notification of a EU states intention to leave the European Union. Article 50 made headlines after the UK voted to leave with EU leaders urging the UK to invoke it immediately. This was reflected in search with almost 500k searches in June.
Although Article 50 haven’t been invoked yet the search interest has dwindled to similar levels it was before the referendum.
Immigration was the main focal point of the leave campaign but it seems that the vote to leave the EU sparked an interest in people wanting to emigrate outside of the UK.
The chart above shows search volume for keywords relating to ‘immigrate to’ and ‘emigrate to’. We can see that there was an increase during the referendum maybe those who were disappointed with the result thought about packing their bags. Below is a list of the highest searched terms:
|emigrate to canada||18100|
|immigration to canada||9900|
|emigrate to australia||6600|
|immigration to australia||3600|
|emigrate to usa||2900|
|how to emigrate to canada||2900|
|immigration to canada from uk||2400|
|migrate to canada||2400|
|how to immigrate to canada||1900|
|how to emigrate to australia||1600|
|how to emigrate||1300|
Searches relating to ‘immigration to uk’ also saw a peak during the referendum.
This is not surprising given the main focus point of the campaign but the most interesting data point is in August 2016 these searches are down 26% year-on-year. Which would suggest that the vote to leave the EU may have discouraged many people from Emigrating to the UK.
The EU provides funding for many different areas in the UK which is now at risk given the vote to leave. Peoples concern over the funding that the UK receives was shown in searches. Keywords relating to ‘eu funding’ peaked in June hitting 10k searches.
The main areas that people were searching was around science, agriculture, Northern Ireland, social funds, development funds and arts and culture funding.
There were also other areas of interest that people were searching for during and after the referendum including
- EU Military: A British general switched sides to back the leave campaign over fears of a EU military even though the UK had a Veto over this idea
- Gibraltar: In the wake of the vote to leave Spain called for joint sovereignty over Gibraltar which caused an increase in online searches for terms relating to ‘gibraltar’
Read my pre-Brexit blog: “With just a few weeks to go before the EU referendum , we interrogated the online data to see what people are searching for and to see if search interest tallies with the opinion polls.”