On Oct. 27, 2020, U.S. President Donald Trump asserted in a tweet that the search term “can I change my vote” was “strongly trending” on Google “since immediately after the second [presidential] debate,” and that this was because people were interested in changing their vote from Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden to Trump.
In reality, that statement isn’t supported by anything resembling quantitative evidence. Instead, this tweet represents the culmination of a series of claims that have their origins in a viral Oct. 24 Facebook post. The data highlighted in this viral post — a one week look at Google Trends — did not provide any sense of the “scale” of the purported trend, nor did it provide evidence of a preference for either candidate. Nevertheless, the claim was repeated wholesale — not once, but twice — in the New York Post. A detailed look at the evolution of this talking point shows the claims to be spurious at best.
Oct. 24 — Viral Facebook Post
On the morning of Oct. 24, the Facebook account Unbiased America shared a picture of Google Trends data for the phrase “can I change my vote” that showed an increase of interest in that term following the Oct. 22 presidential debate between Trump and Biden. Interpreting these data, the author of the post argued:
There has been a large and continuing surge in the number of people googling “Can I change my vote”. The surge began Thursday evening during the debate, subsided overnight, and picked up again Friday morning. As of Saturday morning, the trend is continuing.
While it’s impossible to say whether Thursday’s debate is the cause of the surge (or which voters are changing their minds), most observers say that Trump’s performance in the debate marked a big improvement from his first outing. Biden, meanwhile, made a lot of politically inadvisable statements that his campaign is still trying to clean up.
Oct. 27 — Second New York Post Story
On Oct. 27, following Trump’s tweet, the Post wrote a second story on the purported trend. The news hook, in this case, was that the president had tweeted about the “changing votes” claim. Unmentioned was the fact that the Post’s own reporting likely drove the very Trump tweet they were covering. This most recent Post story included all the previous dubious assertions in one convenient paragraph:
The term “change my vote” registered a strong uptick on Google Trends on Oct. 24, the week after The Post published its exposé series about former Vice President Joe Biden’s alleged involvement in Hunter Biden’s business dealings in Ukraine and China, and continued climbing during the time of the final presidential debate between Trump and Joe Biden last week.
This description bears scant semblance to the data the Post purported to describe:
Indeed, what the data demonstrate is that any “trend” in people looking to change their votes following the final presidential debate is virtually non-existent compared to the trends apparently driven by viral social media chatter, the New York Post’s reporting, and Trump’s tweeting on the topic.
For the record, however, the possibility that a person could change an early vote varies by state and by circumstance, and in many cases, may not be possible.