Google Trends in tax avoidance and tax evasion

The Panama Leaks have shaken the foundations of British politics and done substantial reputational damage to a range of high-profile personalities around the world. We’ve seen plenty of revelations concerning corrupt and morally questionable practices of political elites over the past few years from ICIJ’s Offshore Leaks to the Wikileaks Diplomatic Cables, but few have piqued the interest of the public in the way the Panama Leaks have. Google summed this up nicely in the following chart measuring searches for two of the most significant leaks in recent years:

Right-wing newspapers that normally shy away from articles on tax justice have covered the Leaks at length often leading with them on their front page. As an anti-corruption campaigner, I’m hopeful that these revelations could turn the tide of public opinion on key issues around corporate accountability and tax justice. Both are issues that tend not to get the attention they deserve in part due to the relative complexity of the stories that explore them. I’m curious to see if the Panama Leaks and the associated coverage have made a breakthrough and mainstreamed these issues.

I had a look at Google Trends which lets you compare the popularity of certain search terms over time, a decent metric of the level of public interest in a given topic. The immediate effect on awareness of the related issues is clear, but how this translates into concrete reform, behaviour change and what people demand at the ballot box is yet to be seen. Surely though, there is reason to be optimistic.

It’s notable that “tax avoidance” as a search term had a significant spike in June 2012 when Jimmy Carr’s use of a “K2” tax avoidance scheme received press attention. As ever, the celebrity status of the scalp claimed in the exposé drives public interest.