‘Bing Predicts’ Forecasts the Scottish Independence Referendum in UK Test

The Bing Prediction engine has been busy churning out predictions for users in the US in Bing and Cortana, providing projections for reality TV shows, the NBA amateur draft, and most recently, the World Cup. For the ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ Scottish Referendum vote, we are Beta testing the Bing Predicts model here in the UK to leverage our algorithms against web/social data in the UK and Scotland to bring projections ahead of the historic September 18th vote.

Bing Predicts is an initiative that uses machine-learned models to analyse and detect trends from web and social activity as well as a host of other data for differing events. For popularity-based contests like American Idol, a spinoff of the UK’s original Pop Idol, web and social signals can highly correlate with popularity voting patterns and thus allows the engine to make accurate projections on who will be eliminated each week and who the eventual winner will be. In the most recent season of Idol last spring, the models correctly predicted the winner in late March about 8 weeks before the actual finale. On the other end of the spectrum, predicting the World Cup required the incorporation of other prior information such as team strengths since popularity alone doesn’t dramatically help a football team to win or lose (some fan bases may object to this assertion but it’s largely true). We accurately predicted 15 out of 15 of the knockout rounds.

Election-based predictions sit somewhere in between. On one extreme, one can think of it as a Pop Idol-like contest but the key differences are that (1) individuals are more likely to freely share their true opinion on their favorite Idol contestant than they are on their political view in a public forum like Twitter and (2) eligible voters don’t perfectly overlap with users of the web (e.g. a 12 year old can call in their Idol vote and Tweet about it but cannot vote in the referendum; the same goes for a non-Scotland resident in this case).

Because the Scottish Referendum is a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ event with no historical precedence it brings its own challenges for data analysis (and is one of the reasons we are applying our test model to this event). For the referendum analysis, the US engineering team is partnering with Kate Newton, one of our UK based data experts in the Bing team who has been utilising Microsoft’s own marketplace search insights tool, Bing Ads Intelligence, to research search query sentiments around the Scottish independence vote. For the prediction, we start with the trends and sentiment determined from the web and social data, and we then adjust for biases and try to understand the true opinion expressed by a population most representing the actual voters themselves.

Algorithmically, we detect terms that are pro-independence and compare the aggregate sentiment against phrases which are pro-union to arrive at a prediction for whether the referendum will have a “yes” or “no” vote. Our sentiment detector also identifies neutral keywords which potentially capture the segment of undecided voters. Information is continually ingested, with the prediction updated regularly, to best capture the latest “yes” or “no” vote. This mainly involves determining which way a percentage of undecided voters are going at the last minute.


As well as a prediction, when we look at the search queries from Scotland in the past 6 months we can see some interesting patterns in what people have been searching for. The top concerns of the Scottish people in their search activity related to the referendum in order of importance are:

  • CURRENCY: what will happen to the currency in Scotland if it does become independent?
  • GEO-POLITICAL: can the UK veto an independent Scotland EU membership
  • NATIONALITY/IDENTITY: will Scottish people lose their British nationality after independence
  • BANKS: what happens to RBS if Scotland becomes independent?
  • OIL: who gets the oil with independence?
  • BBC: what would happen to the BBC in an independent Scotland?
  • Other interesting terms: what will happen to the open golf after Scottish independence? And: how will Scottish independence affect law firms?

We’ll be updating our tracker at Bing.com all the way up to the election. We are watching the debate with interest and look forward to being able to see how our data stacks up come the 19th September. To see the results of Bing Predicts, just type Scotland Referendum to Bing.co.uk

This is our test phase for Bing Predicts in the UK and we hope it is informative and interesting. Watch this space for future Bing Predicts activity in the UK.

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