June 11th, 2009 | Published in Google Public Policy
Iranians head to the polls tomorrow to vote in their 10th post-revolution presidential election, and some observers are studying online behavior for clues on how to predict a contest that looks too close to call.
In an article in Foreign Policy, Scott Hartley asks, "Who's winning Iran's Google war?" With more than one third of Iranians now online, search data offers unique insight into what voters might be thinking. Armed with English and Farsi results from Google Insights for Search, Hartley infers that challenger Mir-Hossein Mousavi's appeal is highest among urban elites in Tehran and Shiraz, while incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dominates the less-cosmopolitan cities of Qom, Karaj, and Mashhad. Hartley also points to a fascinating map of the Persian blogosphere developed by Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet & Society, which outlines the diversity of political viewpoints across 400,000 blogs.
How will it ultimately play out? We'll have to wait and see. But as Internet penetration increases around the world, search data and other online behavior may continue to emerge as key research tools in future elections.