If the UK election were to be judged on web search activity alone, David Cameron would be Britain’s next prime minister.
Search figures released by Google on Wednesday for the first week of the election campaign show that the leader of the opposition overtook Gordon Brown for the first time since the Conservative Party conference in October last year.
Google’s statistics also showed that searches for “hung parliament” leapt 233 per cent on the prior week, making the phrase more popular than Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats.
The Tories have been by far the most active among political parties in in buying up Google AdWords, the internet engine’s sponsored search results, as they seek to influence voters searching for information about the candidates and their policies.
Google and other sites have seen a surge in political search activity since the election was called. Blinkx, a video search engine, saw a 130 per cent increase in election-related terms.
Google and Facebook are currently running “digital debates” to allow members of the public to put their questions to the party leaders online.
Although Google does not reveal which results its users click on, or their motivation for the query, search behaviour can be seen as a general indicator of voters’ interests.
Labour is still the most popular party searched for online, but the gap between Labour and the Conservatives is “very, very tight”, according to Google. Searches for “Labour party” increased 141 per cent in the last seven days compared with the prior week, while “Conservative party” was up 142 per cent.
Average polling figures last week put the Tories on a lead of 6 to 9 points over Labour.
With the opinion polls predicting that no party will attain overall control of the House of Commons, searches for “hung parliament” hit an all-time high last week.
But arguably the biggest political story of last week – business’ leaders support for the Conservatives’ pledge to reverse part of Labour’s planned National Insurance rise – did not prompt the electorate to reach for their keyboards in substantially greater numbers.
“National Insurance” and “jobs tax”, as the Tories branded it, saw increased traffic of just 11 and 10 per cent respectively.
Mr Cameron saw Google searches on his name jump by 163 per cent last week, putting him ahead of Mr Brown, who also saw searches spike 92 per cent. Nick Clegg saw the biggest increase, up 426 per cent, but he still lags in third place.
The Lib Dems can take heart, however, by the fact that Vince Cable, the party’s treasury spokesman, is still more popular in the Google search stakes than George Osborne, who in turn is ahead of the incumbent chancellor, Alistair Darling.
All three have seen search activity wane since Channel 4’s “Ask the Chancellors” debate the week before the election was called, although Mr Cable saw the smallest drop, down 44 per cent.
The Tories have the edge over their rivals in the closely watched battle of the “leaders’ wives”. Newly-pregnant Samantha Cameron, who made her debut on her husband’s “WebCameron” YouTube channel last week, saw searches for her name leap 171 per cent last week, ahead of Sarah Brown’s 50 per cent.
Following the pattern set by Mr Clegg, his partner Miriam Gonzalez Durantez saw the biggest spike in interest online with a 600 per cent leap in search behaviour, but remained in third place.
But the Conservatives saw a huge increase in unwanted interest in Chris Grayling, the Tory MP for Epsom and Ewell. Searches for Mr Grayling rose by 525 per cent after reports in the Observer that B&B owners should “have the right” to turn away gay couples.
The Digital Economy Bill, which passed into law last week, saw searches rise by 614 per cent after a storm of online protest about its measures to tackle internet piracy. The bill briefly overtook searches for Afghanistan on Google.