Followup: The coming Wikipedia election.

I wrote in December that Wikipedia is positioned to play a significant role in November’s election, and I think a follow-up is in order. Implicit in that are three claims: that relevant Wikipedia entries will appear prominently in search on Google, that many people will read them, and that information will influence how they will vote.

Testing the first claim is simple. I’ll use the governor’s race as the sample race, since that’s really the only one that’s on the public’s radar. Below is a listing of search term, the raw position occupied by Wikipedia in the results, and the dominent position (since Google will sometimes group multiple results from the same website, nested):

Term # Dom. #
Virginia governor election 1 1
Creigh Deeds 3 2
Terry McAuliffe 3 2
Bob McDonnell 3 2
Brian Moran 3 2

For every one of these candidates, the Wikipedia entry is the #2 result, right after their own website. Folks using Google to find information about these candidates are very likely to wind up on Wikipedia. While it’s not November yet, this forecast is clearly true now, and I see no reason why it won’t remain true come election day.

Testing the second claim—many people will read Wikipedia entries—is also easy to check, since a Wikipedia user provides per-entry statistics. Here is a listing of these five Wikipedia entries, along with the total number of views of each entry in May and the peak number of views the entry had on a single day during the month thus far:

Entry May # May Peak
Virginia gubernatorial election, 2009 9,311 639
Creigh Deeds 3,012 233
Terry McAuliffe 9,475 944
Bob McDonnell 4,161 288
Brian Moran 3,281 230

With nothing to which to compare these numbers, other than themselves, it’s tough to say whether these numbers are significant. All I can summon is the 2005 Republican gubernatorial primary, in which 175,170 people case their ballot for Jerry Kilgore or George Fitch. There’s been a cumulative total of 29,240 views of the above-listed blog entries, but it’s tough to know how these two numbers can be meaningfully interfaced. Twenty nine thousand views in 24 days feels like a pretty good number; that’s not exactly scientific, but I’m going to tentatively conclude that this forecast was correct unless presented with evidence to the contrary.

Is the information in these Wikipedia entries going to influence how people vote? I have no idea, I don’t have the ability to measure that, and I doubt that any polling outfit will try to determine that (or that they can get a sample sufficiently large and diverse to determine so with any external validity). I’m hoping that we’ll get a better sense of this as November draws nearer by looking at things like edit disputes, frequency of updates, contributions that prove to have been made by the campaigns, and awareness of Wikipedia among campaign surrogates and party activists.

Published by Waldo Jaquith

Waldo Jaquith (JAKE-with) is an open government technologist who lives near Char­lottes­­ville, VA, USA. more »

4 replies on “Followup: The coming Wikipedia election.”

  1. It would be interesting to see how many of those visits are out of state, especially given that VA is one of the only games around this year. Is some of that outsiders wondering what media outlets are talking about when they mention VA candidates?

  2. Would that it were possible to measure that. But, yes, it seems inevitable that some significant chunk of folks reading those Wikipedia entries are not Virginians.

  3. Is there a good one-stop-shopping online resource for people who don’t know what the heck is going on, don’t know there’s an election, etc.?

    These are the top questions I’ve heard people I know ask.

    1. Is there an election coming up? Is it really sometime this summer?
    2. What’s the date of the election?
    3. Didn’t we just have an election in November? What gives?
    4. What are we voting for this time?
    5. Who is running?
    6. How on earth am I expected to find out what I need to know about these people in time to cast an educated vote? Can you give me the lowdown on each of these folks?
    7. Am I even eligible to vote in the primary? I’ve never registered as a Democrat or Republican. Don’t you have to be affiliated with one party or the other to vote in a primary?

    I am happy to say I can actually answer these questions, at least somewhat — and I’m putting together an FAQ to email my friends, in an attempt to get people out to vote, but I’d love to find a balanced, detailed, pros-and-cons page that describes the statewide candidates, their positions, their perceived strengths and weaknesses. Do you know if such a thing exists? It would take a while to compile all that. And the election is 15 days away…

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