As we noted previously, you can learn a lot about national sentiment from exploring Google Trends. Just type in a search term and you can see how much interest that term is garnering over time. With the recent rhetoric battle between President Trump and North Korea, interest in the term “World War 3” reached the peak of engagement once again.

Here is the chart from Google Trends over the past 7 days. Note the spike on Tuesday compared to the minimal interest the prior several days:

The comments from President Trump about meeting North Korea with “fire and fury” were breaking Tuesday afternoon, with most people probably seeing them play on evening news casts and cable news. As a result, the trend reached full interest at 10pm ET Tuesday evening:

During the same time as “world war 3” seaching spiked, similar spikes can be seen for related terms like “trump nuclear war”:

Obviously search terms will follow the news when it comes to current events, but it’s interesting to see what kind of information people are looking for. These trends can reflect our fears, as shown above, but they can also reflect our desires:

Google provides a mountain of data to sort through, and some it might be meaningless, but some of it might be worth looking at. When examining opinion polls, it’s small subset of people who get chosen to answers questions. When looking at search engine trend data, we have the opportunity to look at what millions of people are seeking, which might tell us more about national mood than polling.


  1. I think your excitement about Google trends needs to be tempered. Yes, you get millions of hits, not hundreds in a poll, but I Google a lot of things I consider “crackpot,” out of curiosity, not that I take it seriously.

    Another concern is who Googles. Only those with the knowledge AND time to do so. Special subset, just as polls are tilted toward the opposite pole: people with landlines. . .

    All the same, in this case, interest in World War III says something about us. Doesn’t worry me. Even when I was a kid, I knew “duck and cover” was stupid. I’d seen enough Twilight Zone to see what a nuclear attack can do–and that it’s better to go in a moment than to drag on with radiation poisoning.

    • Who googles? Everyone googles. Everyone with a smartphone, tablet, desktop, or laptop googles everything all the time. Google is the most visited search engine with 246 million unique visitors a month in the United States. That’s just over three-quarters of the total population of the country.

      I didn’t mean to imply that Google Trends are more accurate than polling, only that Trends gives a very large pool to survey versus a poll. Think of watching Trends as something like a “flash poll” of what’s happening in the world.

  2. Polls and trends are like quicksand, shifting and changing by the minute. Also, a good description of Donald Trump.

    Trump’s howling in the wind defense of white supremacists, white nationalists and Nazis in Charlottesville has fully exposed him as a bigot and a bully. It is also the Republican Party that has courted, coddled and accommodated people like Trump for decades. They assuage their guilt by denials but, as we all know, actions speak louder than words.

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