What Can Browsing Behavior Reveal About Voter Intent?
The midterm elections are upon us, and there is no shortage of prognostication about what the future holds. Most signs point to major momentum for Democrats. They lead on most “generic ballot” polls, in which pollsters ask respondents which party they think should control congress or which party’s candidate they would vote for in his or her district.
And they’re also favored to win back control of the house, partly because Republicans currently control a large number of competitive districts, leaving them more vulnerable in this particularly contentious election. Plus, it just seems like there’s more enthusiasm and motivation on the side of the Democrats.
At the Digital Consumer, we wanted to get in on the forecasting action, so we analyzed online behavior from Jumpshot’s 8 million U.S. devices to try to understand what Internet browsing could indicate about the election
Registration was High and Strong in Some Surprising States
First, we analyzed traffic to major, national voter registration sites (vote.org, usvotefoundation.org and turbovote.org were the leading three). We broke out these unique visitors to the states where they live and pegged the number to the state populations. Then, we created an index to reveal how much more or less residents of each state have visited those domains, determining if those states were more or less “activated” than average.
Then, we looked at the specific patterns of the users who visited those domains.
Surprisingly, Missouri has seen the highest level of activation interest, followed by Michigan, Washington, Oregon and Maine. The least activated states are clustered in the south: Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama are all in the bottom 10, along with North Dakota, Alaska, and West Virginia.
We were interested to see Georgia and Tennessee near the top. Tennessee may have gotten a boost from Taylor Swift’s plea for young voters to get involved in the Senate race there. And Georgia has a very close race for governor, and voting itself has become a major theme in the campaign, since Republican candidate, Georgia Secretary of state Brian Kemp, has faced criticism for voter suppression as Georgia purged 1.5 million voters from its rolls between 2012 and 2016, plus an additional estimated 665,000 voters last year.
Washington D.C. actually sees the highest level of activation interest (4x higher than average), but this could be skewed by having a population that might be visiting those sites for reasons other than registering to vote.
Interest Matches Political Storylines
Visits to the three registration sites we studied have increased steadily through the year and have exceeded traffic from 2016, a remarkable signal of voter engagement in a midterm election.
And, visits have spiked around particularly contentious political events. Protests against migrant family separation, the Manafort verdict and Cohen guilty plea, and the Kavanaugh hearing in particular correlated with surges in voting interest.
Democratic Senate and Governor Candidates Saw Higher Registration
To get even more specific, we also considered some more granular state-level data to try to gain some insights into particularly competitive Senate and Gubernatorial races.
We picked four states with close Senate races and found users who had visited candidate pages, then overlapped those users with our original cohort of users who have visited major voter registration websites, studying those overlaps visits by state and date, as well.
Across four competitive senate races, nearly twice as many visitors to Democratic candidate sites are visiting voter registration websites than their Republican opponents. In Missouri, Texas, North Dakota, and Tennessee, an average of 15% of visitors to Democrats’ pages also visited registration sites. By contrast, just under 8% of the Republicans’ site visitors did the same.
That high Missouri activation index is a good indicator of momentum for McCaskill, since she’s an incumbent in a state that voted for Trump by more than 18 percentage points. Still, she faces a tough race against Josh Hawley. Visitors to Heidi Heitkamp’s campaign were the most likely to visit registration sites among all the candidates we looked at, North Dakota was among the least activated states overall. But North Dakota is also the only state in the union that doesn’t require registration. So it makes sense that voters overall wouldn’t visit the registration sites in high numbers.
The overlap of visitors to Gubernatorial candidate sites with registration sites is again higher for Democratic candidates. In these races, visitors to the Democratic candidate sites also visited registration sties at a rate of more than 2 times the Republican candidates.
Georgia is particularly interesting because, as mentioned above, the state has seen one of the higher rates of interest in registration sites overall. It’s the 6th ranked state in our activation index. Kansas is also more likely than average to be visiting voter registration sites this year (they’re the 9th ranked state in the index).
Even though Wisconsin shows the highest gap between the Democratic and Republican candidates, it’s among the least active states compared to average (37th ranked). So a smaller portion of their electorate was registering to vote, but those that did were overwhelmingly on Tony Evers’ side.
Ohio is about average in terms of voter activation, and Richard Cordray and Mike DeWine have the lowest rate of overlap between site visits and visits to registration sites among their party peers.