Britons drawn to ‘biased’ Brexit content, study suggests

It's no secret that scandal sells. Analysing millions of EU referendum-related search terms reveal a landslide victory for Brexit 'click-bait' over 'moderate' Remain campaigns

It’s no secret that scandal sells. Analysing millions of EU referendum-related search terms reveal a landslide victory for Brexit ‘click-bait’ over ‘moderate’ Remain campaigns

Between January and April 2016, Google received 2,948,650 searches that can be classified as information gathering for the purpose of decision-making. While the vast majority of these were general queries such as ‘EU Referendum’, the economy and immigration were clearly the two issues of most interest to British voters. 

Strategy consultants at Mavens of London analysed ​over 3.5 million Google search queries across 1,048 keywords to identify the kind of information that appeals to the general public the most, how interest is changing over time, and also which sites were most popular in informing their decision-making. 

“Queries around the economic impact of a Brexit were searched for 3.5 times as often as queries around immigration and the EU,” said Tom Mowat, Director at Mavens. “Equally striking is that the NHS recorded barely any search interest in the context of the Referendum.”

Biased content wins on clicks

“It has to be noted that the popular Remain-leaning sites more often tend to be moderate in their stance, while the most visited Leave sites tend to express strong views for a Brexit,” according to Mowat. “Among the top 50 sites ranking in Google for Referendum-related queries, seven are purpose-built Leave sites such as (12th) and (13th), compared to just two dedicated Remain sites such as (29th). The dedicated Leave sites also perform better in generating traffic from organic search, which explains why voters are more likely to visit extreme Leave content, even though the overall information landscape seems to slightly favour staying in the EU.”

Media over the Government 

The BBC recorded more than twice as much traffic as the Financial Times in EU referendum-related site visits. The Government’s referendum page was fourth most visited, followed by the Telegraph and the Guardian. “Together, these six sites are estimated to have claimed 61 per cent of organic reader interest from in the past few months, demonstrating the importance of the digital presence of traditional media,” Mowat added. Surprisingly, the Daily Mail (20th) and the Sun (49th), both normally considered to be influential around political events, rank lower.

Boris vs. Cameron

Overall to date this year, Boris Johnson is searched for more often in relation to the referendum than David Cameron, the two leading politicians in this debate judging by public interest. Johnson gained momentum especially in February, when nearly 30,000 related searches referenced his name, compared to 19,160 referencing Cameron. Jeremy Corbyn (6,350) was a distant third that month, although interest in him spiked in April, when queries such as ‘Corbyn EU’ outscored those around Johnson and Cameron. Other party figures such as Clegg, Farron and Sturgeon have seen comparatively little public interest in relation to the referendum, all with consistently less than 100 monthly searches.

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Praseeda Nair

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda was Editor for from 2016 to 2018.

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