In 2019, TV viewers aren’t just watching TV, they are often on their tablet or mobile device at the same time.  According to the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA), 75% of Canadians admit to surfing the Internet while watching TV.  Thanks to publicly available data from Google Trends, we can get insight into what moments during the federal leaders’ debate captured the attention of those tuning in.

If we map the Google data over the two-hour debate, we see very specific moments that prompted viewers to look up the various party leaders.  What we find is that there is a direct link to a party leader being in the spotlight and spikes in Google searches related to that leader.

Overall, share of search largely followed current polling data: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has the largest number of total searches.  Save for some peaks discussed below, more people were searching his name than any other leader.  Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer was second, followed by the NDP’s Jagmeet Singh. Interestingly, People’s Party Leader Maxime Bernier had more searches than Green Party Leader Elizabeth May.  Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet was not included in this analysis.

Looking at search topics, there were two standouts.  The first is that searches of Prime Minister Trudeau were highest in Alberta and focused on a sensational article from the Buffalo Chronicle

The second breakout was connected to NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Bill 21, the controversial Quebec legislation that bans public sector workers from wearing religious symbols.  Viewers, especially those in Ontario, were looking to Google for additional information on Bill 21.    

Looking to the debate itself, there were six key spikes in searches during Monday’s debate that are plotted in the graph below.  If we map the spikes against the two-hour debate period, we can clearly see how debate moments directly led to increases in the number of Google searches. 


It is not surprising that Maxime Bernier, who arguably has the lowest profile of all national leaders, would benefit (Point 1) from the exposure of being on the national stage.  Bernier’s only other peak (Point 5) came towards the end of the debate, when Bernier questioned Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer on whether Scheer could call himself a conservative. 

Other search spikes came immediately after the portion of the debate where a party leader was questioned directly by a rival. Andrew Scheer in particular had the highest spike (Point 2) in searches of the night when he questioned Prime Minister Trudeau on ethics.  May saw an uptick (Point 3) when she was being grilled by BQ Leader Yves-François Blanchet on the cost of her platform.   

However, it seems that the most notable spikes belong to Jagmeet Singh.  He saw a definite spike (Point 4) when he spoke directly about income inequality.  He also had his highest search volume (Point 6) just after end of the debate.  While all party leaders saw a spike in the hour or so after the debate concluded, Singh’s were first and they were the most pronounced. 

While we can’t say for sure that a Google search necessarily correlates to positive intention, it certainly demonstrates that the leader in question has the attention and interest of those searching – at least for that moment. 

There are three big takeaways from this review of search trends.  First, it appears that Jagmeet Singh got the biggest boost of the night, measuring by search volume.  The challenge now is to capitalize on that increased attention. 

Second, every campaign should recognize that viewers have their devices in hand while watching TV and many will augment their viewing time to look up additional information on what they saw and heard.  Lastly, the spikes in attention can also be used by campaigns to drive key messages, either through search ads or digital assets, to convert the initial interest into confirmed support.