Google, who are these cabinet ministers anyway?

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Leadership Wednesday, February 26, 2014 View Count = 3366

Google, who are these cabinet ministers anyway?

Inspired by the "why is [US State]" meme, a few weeks ago UK political scientist Phil Cowley undertook a simple project that used crowd-sourced information to explore what questions Brits had about their country's cabinet. In other words, he went to Google, typed in "is [name of cabinet member]" and reported the top result suggested by autocomplete (this assumes of course that it’s mainly Brits googling cabinet ministers in the first place).

And so what of Canada? Some of the top autocomplete suggestions for "is [name]" are listed below, and are separated into Ministers (senior cabinet members) and Ministers of State (junior members) according to the order of precedence. For interest's sake, I've also included Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair. I did my best to achieve an unbiased result by signing out of Google and clearing all browser history, cookies, etc. before entering the names.

Interestingly, the results reveal a high level of interest in marital status for both Canadian and British googlers. Of those cabinet members for which the search phrase "is [name of cabinet member]" produced a specific question: 

  • 10 (out of 19) Canadian ministers turned up “married
  • 7 (out of 15) UK members did the same

Notably, the Canadian findings also reveal a significant gender imbalance, with "married?" being the first item for 86% of female Cabinet Ministers, but just 33% of the men (comparisons with the UK aren't possible because there are just two female senior ministers).

However, while Canadians seem to share Brits' fascination with marital status, Canada has more cabinet members (19 out of 38, or exactly 50%) for which autcomplete fails to suggest a specific "is [name]" question. Of these 19:

  • 16 brought up the suggestion "who is..." instead of “is [name]
  • 2 had no suggestions at all

In contrast, only 38% of UK cabinet ministers yielded either "who is...", no suggestion, or a mistaken suggestion. This difference can't be explained by the inclusion of junior cabinet members, since they had the same proportion without a question as senior members. These results suggest that there may be fewer Canadian cabinet members with wide-scale public recognition. However, it is also entirely possible that there are simply fewer Canadians to Google cabinet members in the first place. For the remaining cabinet ministers (i.e. those with specific "is [name]" questions other than "married?"), autocomplete offers up a mixed assortment as can be seen below.

And so what does all this tell us? Without knowing the factors considered in Google's algorithms it's impossible to know how representative the results are. It's also quite likely that asking a different question, such as "does [name]", would produce different results. However, overall I think it is fair to echo Cowley's findings and conclude that Canadians (at least those googling), like their British cousins, are surprisingly interested in Cabinet ministers' marital status. In contrast, Canadians seem to have far fewer questions relating to Ministers' cabinet roles, and many ministers about which they have no questions at all.

Here is a sample of the results:

Stephen Harper          a good prime minister?
Peter Mackay            a lawyer?
Rona Ambrose           married?
Diane Finley               blind?
Tony Clement             married?
Jim Flaherty                ill?
James Moore              married?
Leona Aglukkaq          married?
Lisa Raitt                    married?

Ministers of State
Gary Goodyear            a creationist?
Rob Moore                  who is
John Duncan               aboriginal?
Alice Wong                 who is
Pierre Poilievre            married?
Greg Rickford              married?
Michelle Rempel          married?

Opposition leaders
Thomas Mulcair           a french citizen
Justin Trudeau             running for prime minister

Read Paul's full analysis of the results here.

Paul Thomas is a Vanier Graduate Scholar and Doctoral Candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of Toronto. His research explores cross-party cooperation among politicians at the Canadian and British parliaments.

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