A recent study has measured the potential effect a simple Google search can have on the potential outcome of a major election, and it’s not a small one, as the search engine’s article ranking algorithm could determine the outcome of up to 25% of all national elections.
The study, run in two phases, first studied the outcome of simulated votes, using the Australian 2010 federal election as a backdrop. Using a simulated search engine to post positive articles about candidates for the test subjects, the study found that 48% of the mock-voters would have their votes swayed toward the candidate that was the subject of the articles. Dubbing the effect "vote manipulation power", or VMP, they found the effect actually strengthened when negative articles were included, as their inclusion made the simulated search results seem more unbiased.
The second phase of the study employed 2,150 undecided voters in India’s 2014 Lok Sabha national elections. Unlike the simulated votes related to the Australian election, this phase was with actual voters participating in the election, of which resulted in a surprising average VMP of 25% influence on the voters, with up to 72% influenced in one demographic alone.
The estimated effect on elections in cultures like the United States, of which historically tend to be very close races, is expected to be profound. Many swing-states, those that tend to have very close margins, may only have margins of 3 or 4 percent, of which could easily be effected by a low VMP of only 4 to 8 percent.
Robert Epstein, a psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology and study co-author, says “We estimate, based on win margins in national elections around the world, that Google could determine the outcome of upwards of 25 percent of all national elections.”