Okay, so you have all seen the headlines. They say that the nation has absolutely fallen in love with Rahul Gandhi. That he dominates the news, sets the agenda, decides the narrative … everything. All this coming from the same journalists who “interviewed” Rahul Gandhi, asking to meet his pet dog Pidi. Or those who chased his car asking to ask him about how he liked samosas and whether he had some kind of special liking for jalebis made from jaggery instead of sugar. I kid you not…this actually happened.
But what’s the data? Are Indians really doing what journalists think they are doing?
Let’s see what Google Trends data tells us about public interest in PM Modi vs Rahul Gandhi. Here is the data for the last 7 days:
Google Trends data shows complete and total domination by PM Modi over Rahul. Whether at its peaks or its troughs, the blue line for Modi always remains above Rahul. In every single state of India.
Those troughs in Modi’s blue line, when it gets closer to Rahul’s red line are easy to explain. All of them happen around 00:30 hrs each day, i.e., there is lesser interest in PM Modi because people are asleep.
Not surprisingly, Uttar Pradesh makes it to the list of top 3 states with a high interest in Modi. But what is amazing is just how big the gap with Rahul is. In Uttar Pradesh, out of total searches for PM Modi and Rahul Gandhi, Google Trends says:
Narendra Modi: 93%
Rahul Gandhi: 7%
Of course, we cannot draw a conclusion purely based on this. We have to look for other data, other possibilities that Indians may be looking for. So far we have established that according to Google, there is simply no comparison between interest in Modi vs Rahul in terms of “topic searches”.
We need to try some variations. How about keyword searches? People generally talk of “Modi” and “Rahul”. Let’s compare those.
Again, Modi is uniformly ahead of Rahul. Again, the only times the two lines get closer is between 00:30-02:00 at night, when everyone is asleep and nobody is searching for either Modi or Rahul. When the lines touch briefly in this graph, that happened at 2:00 AM last night.
Believe it or not, there is not that much interest, neither in Rahul nor in Pidi.
How about we compare the two parties then, BJP vs Congress?
The BJP maintains a very steady and very healthy lead over the Congress. Worse for Congress, its numbers are built mostly on a surge of interest in the 3 recently won states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. This cannot be more than a temporary phenomenon, as the new Chief Ministers in these states are still setting the terms for their governance.
We often worry about “perception”. We always worry about whether our circle of friends and acquaintances is truly representative of what the people of the country are really thinking.
Except we now have a weapon to actually measure this. And it is an absolute shame how underutilized Google Trends data is in understanding the impact of the media stories in real time.
Look here: let’s restrict ourselves to Delhi, a highly urbanized setting with extreme media penetration and let us compare Modi vs Rahul over the last 7 days:
See that giant blue spike on Jan 1 for Modi? That is when Modi’s interview was all over the news and everyone in Delhi wanted to know more!
In comparison, when Rahul addressed a press conference last night after a long day of coverage on the Rafale Deal, you can see that public interest did go up, but the increase was almost nothing compared to the PM Modi interview. In fact, Google Trends says that PM Modi was leading over Rahul at 8:30 PM, even though Modi wasn’t even seen in Parliament yesterday and the media blared Rahul’s lies incessantly all day.
And you want to know something hilarious about “Rahul”: Look into the Google Trends data more carefully!
At no. 3 among “related queries” for “Rahul” is “Deepa Rahul Easwar”, meaning that a significant chunk of the interest in “Rahul” is not driven by Rahul Gandhi, but by Rahul Easwar!
In fact, more people searching for Rahul were interested in Rahul Easwar and his wife Deepa rather than in Rahul Gandhi’s speech!
That was for Delhi, where we expect media to have the highest impact. If we zoom out to the whole of India what do we see?
While all the “Modi” searches clearly relate to the Prime Minister, a significant number of “Rahul” searches are actually being driven by cricketers K L Rahul and Marnus Labuschagne!
Yes, data is the new gold. Whenever we are wondering about the impact of a news item, we don’t have to go around asking our friends and neighbours. We don’t have to be like the liberals and ask taxi drivers. There is a much simpler way. Just ask the universal mind of the internet, which Google trends make available to us.