The role of internet search in democratic elections

A new research project examining how search engines contribute to voter knowledge in elections has been launched by the Adam Smith Research Foundation.

Social scientists have long noted that informed citizens are critical to sustaining democracy, while authoritarian regimes are marked by their control of information flow. Search engines provide new and unprecedented ways for citizens to access information.  However, there has been little specific research into how voters use them as they carry out the democratic task of gathering information in election campaigns.

The ‘Voter Ecology’ project will use the power of search choices and popularity to examine how and when people are choosing to gather information in a range of elections.

Through comparing how citizens in established democracies (the United Kingdom and the United States), challenged democracies (Italy) and transitional states (Egypt) use search engines in election campaigns, this project will reveal how these tools function in the dissemination and retrieval of information during critical political events.

Principal Investigator, Prof. Andrew Hoskins said “One aspect of our project is to identify searches that we call ‘unexpected’ – those that don’t reflect mainstream media agendas/reporting or official political campaign messages. 

A key question for us is whether citizens ‘escape’ these influences in their use of search or if the mainstream media dominate in directing what people look for online. So, our project asks if search opens up political questions at key moments such as elections or closes them down.”

The project continues until March 2014 and is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) as part of a joint knowledge exchange initiative with search provider Google.

Find out more

Professor Andrew Hoskins, Interdisciplinary Research Professor

Adam Smith Research Foundation

College of Social Sciences

For more information, go to

For further information contact Cara MacDowall, or call 0141 330 3683

First published: 12 August 2013

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