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Brexit: a search story

by Adam Read, Data Analyst
17th Nov 2016 - 13 min read

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.

Search Topics

There were many topics that were discussed pre and post referendum, this analysis has handpicked a selection that appears to be most prominent.

Read my pre-Brexit blog that compares search interest with the opinion polls.

Politicians

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.

brexit-graph001

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.

brexit-graph002

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.

David Cameron

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:

Keyword Jun-16
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.

Boris Johnson

Below are the top 10 most asked questions about Boris Johnson during the EU referendum in June 2016:

Keyword Jun-16
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.

Nigel Farage

Below are the top 10 most asked questions about Nigel Farage during the EU referendum:

Keyword Jun-16
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).

Theresa May

Below are the top 8 most asked questions about Theresa May during the month she became the new Prime Minister:

Keyword Jul-16
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:

Keyword Jul-16
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

Economy

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’:

brexit-graph003

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:

Keyword Jun-16
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.

Currency

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:

brexit-graph004

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.

Interest Rates

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.

brexit-graph005

The keywords driving this increase in interest are related to mortgage interest rates, student loan interest rates, bank interest rates and loan interest rates.

Retail Sales

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.

brexit-graph006

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.

brexit-graph007

A closer look at the keywords driving this trend narrowed down to the Bank of England interest rates.

Housing Market

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.

brexit-graph008

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:

brexit-graph009

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.

Economy Summary

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.

Scottish Independence

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.

brexit-graph010

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’.

brexit-graph011

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:

Keyword Jun-16
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

Hate Crimes

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.

brexit-graph012

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:

Keyword Jun-16
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

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.

brexit-graph013

Although Article 50 haven’t been invoked yet the search interest has dwindled to similar levels it was before the referendum.

Emigration and Immigration

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.

brexit-graph014

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:

Keyword Jun-16
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.

brexit-graph015

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.

EU Funding

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.

brexit-graph016

The main areas that people were searching was around science, agriculture, Northern Ireland, social funds, development funds and arts and culture funding.

Other

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.”

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