This research shows that members of different ideological groups in the United States can use different search terms when looking for information about political candidates, but that difference is not enough to yield divergent search results on Google. Search engines are central in information seeking during elections, and have important implications for the distribution of information and, by extension, for democratic society. Using a method involving surveys, qualitative coding, and quantitative analysis of search terms and search results, we show that the sources of information that are returned by Google for both liberal and conservative search terms are strongly correlated. We collected search terms from people with different ideological positions about Senate candidates in the 2018 midterm election from the two main parties in the U.S., in three large and politically distinct states: California, Ohio, and Texas. We then used those search terms to scrape web results and analyze them. Our analysis shows that, in terms of the differences arising from individual search term choices, Google results exhibit a mainstreaming effect that partially neutralizes differentiation of search behaviors, by providing a set of common results, even to dissimilar searches. Based on this analysis, this article offers two main contributions: first, in the development of a method for determining group-level differences based on search input bias; and second, in demonstrating how search engines respond to diverse information seeking behavior and whether that may have implications for public discourse.
- algorithm studies
- political information
- Search engines
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Library and Information Sciences