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Examining Presidential Candidates Via Google Trends 119

Posted by timothy
from the correlation-!-causation dept.
Michael Giuffrida writes "Google Trends is a free application produced by Google that shows how often a given keyword is searched for, over time. After seeing how candidates in the 2008 primaries have done in Google Trends in different states, it's clear that this tool can be very useful for campaigns." Read on below for some of the specifics about how these candidates have fared, Google-wise.
"For example, in New Hampshire, in the days leading up to the Jan. 8 primary, Clinton was searched for the most, followed by Obama, followed by Edwards — which was how the primary results turned out. In other words, the candidates most searched for on Google by users in New Hampshire were also the candidates with the most number of votes. This works for many other states as well.

For the first 37 Democratic primaries and caucuses, 32 states had enough data on Google to make a prediction. This method correctly predicted 27 of those 32 sates. Predictions aside, the tool is also useful simply in finding out how popular a candidate is in different states, assuming that the more popular candidates are entered more often as a search term in Google (an assumption that was verified, at least for the Democratic primaries, by the positive association found)."
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Examining Presidential Candidates Via Google Trends

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  • by RiotingPacifist (1228016) on Saturday June 07, 2008 @02:19PM (#23695101)
    Sir, every time you mention bird rights and protection your page rank seams to rocket.
  • 27 out of 32 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TubeSteak (669689) on Saturday June 07, 2008 @02:22PM (#23695115) Journal
    Interesting, but I don't think it's that hard to beat an 84% accuracy rate with traditional methods.
    • Where is Ron Paul? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by bbagnall (608125) on Saturday June 07, 2008 @03:03PM (#23695487) Homepage
      Why include Giuliani and Thompson and not Ron Paul? I would rather see Ron Paul than those other two who Ron Paul consistently beat. He was kicking butt in terms of Google searches.
      • by Ucklak (755284) on Saturday June 07, 2008 @03:41PM (#23695741)
        That's the same thought I had. Ron Paul was all over the map from Google Trends, Facebook, MySpace, and even Digg where he still has more support than Obama.

        If anything, those trends didn't equate to votes which also means that this article is nothing more than a fluff piece and not to be taken seriously.
        • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward
          Here's the ruleset I propose:

          If a candidate is equally liked by fanboys AND media, G-trends accurately reflects the public polls. (e.g. BHO)

          If a candidate is liked by fanboys but hated by media (i.e. media blackout), G-trends fails to predict global outcome.
          • by rtb61 (674572)
            Trends for search are pointless unless the search is analyses based upon content. For example searching for McCain is an idiot, is substantially different to McNain is corrupt or McCain is a Bush clone or McCain is over the hill.

            All the search trends need to indicate the context of the search and group the results by context in order to provide any meaning to the results.

            Negative searches can in now way be used to indicate popularity in fact it would definitely indicate the opposite. Google trends is mo

      • by jasonditz (597385) on Saturday June 07, 2008 @11:31PM (#23698249) Homepage
        TFA says they deliberately excluded him because he was so popular on the internet and his search results don't correspond to actual votes.
        In other words... their examination works great, except when it doesn't. And in that case, we'll just not included that data in the final results.
        Wish I could've gotten away with that in college.
      • Because it's easy to predict the past via cherry picking. It's hard, if not impossible, to predict the future.
    • by Chr0nik (928538)
      And now, what everyone's been wondering.. http://www.google.com/trends?q=%22john+mccain%22%2C+%22barak+obama%22&ctab=0&geo=all&date=all&sort=0 [google.com] four more years?
    • Re:27 out of 32 (Score:5, Interesting)

      by cayenne8 (626475) on Saturday June 07, 2008 @03:47PM (#23695791) Homepage Journal
      "Interesting, but I don't think it's that hard to beat an 84% accuracy rate with traditional methods."

      I think if you want to predict the presidential winner, you should go with the tried and true method....see which candidates halloween mask sells the most!! That has been an accurate predictor for decades now....It appears at least so far, now that they are tracking the masks throughout the primary season too, that Obama has the lead in the mask poll [topix.net] .

      I dunno...at this point, I figure dressing up as Obama or McCain would be equally as scary to most of us....

      :-)

      • Haha, excellent. But I'm confused as to whether they've predicted anything besides Obama becoming the nominee.
      • by TubeSteak (669689)

        BuyCostumes.com, the world's largest online retailer of halloween costumes, accessories and party supplies has 100% successfully predicted the next President of the United States since 2000 based solely on the sales of candidates' masks.
        About BUYSEASONS, Inc.
        Founded in 1999...

        I think maybe the parent was going for a Funny mod
        These last two Presidential elections were anything but normal.
      • by Koiu Lpoi (632570)
        Wow, they have a 100% prediction since 2000! It's almost like there were only 2 elections that they've guessed right! We can totally trust these guys.
      • Weekly Reader Poll (Score:4, Interesting)

        by OakDragon (885217) on Saturday June 07, 2008 @05:59PM (#23696717) Journal
        Every election cycle, you can find stories like this [usatoday.com] about the Weekly Reader poll:

        Pundits come and pundits go, but one group has quietly predicted the winner of the presidential election every four years since the Eisenhower administration: kids.

        Most political junkies won't give it the time of day, but the Weekly Reader presidential poll of schoolchildren has pegged every winner since 1956.

        As far as informal polls go, this one is supposed to be one of the most accurate.
        • Doesn't that just say that those who guess the winner of the election most accurately are those who are the most detached from real issues, nuance, and anything truly complex and long term about politics and only see the surface-level soap opera that the Cable news presents?

          Maybe I'm being too cruel to the children, when I was a kid I wouldn't have liked my opinions demeaned, but I also know that when I was a kid in American schools I was never given an appreciation for the suffering that military adventure
          • by wombert (858309)
            You're assuming that the schoolchildren selected a candidate after considering each one, deciding based on some factors that they can understand - whether that be a simplified description of their policies or just which one has better hair.

            However, if I remember my childhood accurately, I'd have to say that I and my classmates almost always advocated the candidates for whom our parents were planning to vote. Perhaps that's what lends it some accuracy - the kids are basically stating a preference on behal
            • That's interesting (And of course I really should have thought of that), it's also counter to my own experience, which may not be a typical one. My parents declined to inform me how they voted, they figured the anonymity of voting was fairly important apparently, so I was left to make my own judgements, however fair or not I could make them.

              For instance, younger - me decided to hope that Clinton would win the 1996 election, while much later I learned my dad had voted for Perot.
      • So if Ron Paul released a Halloween mask, he would be our next president?

        Also, I could see a crap storm happen with an Obama Halloween mask. Seriously, that could go in so many directions of political correctness that it makes my head hurt.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 07, 2008 @02:24PM (#23695123)
    ...without actually RTFA:

    "For the Republican Primaries, last names could easily be used. Ron Paul was excluded. His last name is too common. Using his full name is not a good solution either, because he had massive popularity on the Internet, becoming a meme of sorts, which did not at all correspond with his actual successes (or lack thereof) in the primaries."
    • by amccaf1 (813772) on Saturday June 07, 2008 @03:15PM (#23695553)

      "For the Republican Primaries, last names could easily be used. Ron Paul was excluded. His last name is too common. Using his full name is not a good solution either, because he had massive popularity on the Internet, becoming a meme of sorts, which did not at all correspond with his actual successes (or lack thereof) in the primaries."
      Translation: Including Ron Paul would have indicated our hypothesis was incorrect, so we excluded him.
      • by Z34107 (925136) on Saturday June 07, 2008 @03:25PM (#23695625)

        They're using a candidate's popularity in Google Trends as a measurement of the success of their campaign.

        For Ron Paul, his popularity on the internet has nothing to do with his real-life political success - as grandparent poster said, he's an internet meme. You think there's any correlation between "Ron Paul" jokes on forums and genuine interest in his campaign?

        Their "hypothesis" for the other candidates Google trends measures the success of their campaign. With Ron Paul, it's measuring something else entirely.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by amccaf1 (813772)
          So, popularity on Google trends means that a candidate has succeeded in getting his/her message across, or that people are interested in what s/he has to say, or that people like forwarding e-mail jokes about the candidate, or that the candidate has reached some critical mass of Internet meme-ness, or some other undefined level of Internet interest.

          In other words, popularity on Google indicates popularity on Google. While I can't argue with the truth of that statement, I can quibble with its usefulness...
          • by amccaf1 (813772)
            I just realized that I hadn't RTFA closely enough to realize that this report was actually someone's High School project, so I have to apologize for the unnecessary harshness in my tone there.
        • by Koiu Lpoi (632570) <koiulpoiNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Saturday June 07, 2008 @05:23PM (#23696503)
          Still sounds like they're excluding data to make their hypothesis true. "Using the internet to predict who will win is great, unless the candidate is popular on the internet."
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by rohan972 (880586)
          Doesn't that prove the point "Including Ron Paul would have indicated our hypothesis was incorrect, so we excluded him." It means that this method is not a reliable predictor of political success.

          On another note, listening to some of Ron Paul's speeches, he doesn't seem to have expected a realistic chance of winning the presidency. His campaign from early on seems to have been focussed on getting his message out and attempting to reform the republican party by packing it with libertarians. I will be inte
          • by Z34107 (925136) on Saturday June 07, 2008 @05:56PM (#23696685)

            There are such things as statistical outliers and externalities.

            They're not talking about "zomg google popularity means they'll win!" They're saying, "Watch for your search graphs to spike after a speech to see if it was effective."

            Contrived example: Barack Obama makes a big speech about social security. If, suddenly, the number of searches for "Barack Obama Social Security" spikes, you could conclude that maybe you reached some people, generated some interest.

            Now, boys and girls, this is where we stop and think. This would work for Barack Obama because those searches track well with the speech he made. It would not work for Ron Paul given his status as an internet meme. The correlation between Ron Paul searches and events in his campaign is going to be just as weak as correlations between Chuck Norris and (actual) events in his life, or between lolcats and pet food product safety.

            I don't know how to make it any clearer. There is no "hypothesis." They have not framed this a statistical H0: Google doesn't control the elections and calculated a p-value. They haven't ignored data that would disprove some part of string theory. They're just saying this:

            Tracking search trends can be interesting for candidates. Less so for Ron Paul.

            • by Z34107 (925136)

              Never mind - as I read the rest of the FA, they are trying to predict elections.

              ^.^

              But still, my point stands - they point out that this isn't useful for Ron Paul, because interest in Ron Paul on the internet has little to do with his actual campaign. But, nobody as the same Chuck Norris-like admiration of Hillary, so her results are related to campaigns.

              • I wanted to see if Google Trends could apply to political campaigns. So I went with the most obvious measure - primary/caucus results - and developed a model that worked very well, for the Dems anyway. I certainly did have to backtrapolate a bit.. the model failed until I removed memes (Ron Paul) and found that using first names sort of "normalized" Obama's massive popularity online with the younger generation. So predicting future polls may or may not work, although if anybody tried, I would again suggest
                • by Z34107 (925136)

                  You're setting the bar pretty low for "reasoned and mature." But, as some people don't seem to realize, controlling for confounding variables makes statistical work more accurate, not less.

                  But, that things seem to track more or less is pretty nifty. The next step would be to actually automate the predictions, and with curiousity piqued, I Googled (naturally) for a Google Trends API. They've been promising one [cnet.com] since 2007, but evidently it hasn't shown up yet or was cancelled, which is disappointing.

                  It

                  • You're setting the bar pretty low for "reasoned and mature."

                    Ouch.

                    But, that things seem to track more or less is pretty nifty. The next step would be to actually automate the predictions...

                    No API, but you could hard-code a script to run the searches (really, all you need is a url to the image itself [google.com]) and programmatically look at the trend line to find the index numbers/compare the candidates. Then you'd have a whole bunch of nice happy numbers, and you could control and find significance of and pivot allll you want.

                    • by Z34107 (925136)

                      Nah, just that most of my posts are knee-jerk rants. But, it's nice for my posts to be confused with something worth reading every once in a while. ^.^

                      But, there's no labels on the y-axis. Google seems to have made the trends information purposefully difficult to use. I suppose you could make relative comparisons, but then only if everything you wanted to compare was on the same graph - otherwise, the y-axis might be different.

                      Don't get me wrong - I think this is a really cool project. I never thou

        • by laddiebuck (868690) on Saturday June 07, 2008 @05:40PM (#23696601)
          So how do you know that say, searches for "Barack" are any more meaningful than searches for "Ron Paul"? No, the writer had a neat theory and got so attached to it that he discarded a bad data point instead of admitting it didn't work for Ron Paul.

          By including Ron Paul but at least being complete and honest, the analysis would have been more worthwhile than what it now is -- a pile of rubbish.
        • Did a quick trend on "science", "mathematics", "biology", "chemistry", all trending steadily downward.

          On the other hand, if you look for trends in "games", the trend is steadily upward.
        • A quick look at long term trends for "science", "mathematics", "biology", "chemistry", "engineering", all trending downward, perhaps with a Y intercept of zero in about the year 2100.

          On the other hand, "games" on the increase, with "facebook" showing exponential growth.

          Watch as billions of facebook users heat up the planet.

  • Not the whole story (Score:3, Interesting)

    by shma (863063) on Saturday June 07, 2008 @02:24PM (#23695125)
    It seems their method does rather poorly when looking at republican primaries. Overall, they comment: "In reality, only about half of the "predictions" before the 2/12 primaries were actually accurate. "

    Still, one would expect logically that interest in a candidate is related to their poll numbers. But you need a better way to distinguish between negative interest and positive interest: how many people are searching "Obama AND Wright video" vs "Obama AND race speech"? With a more detailed model they could be on to something.
    • by bwhaley (410361) <spam4benNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Saturday June 07, 2008 @02:34PM (#23695223)
      It seems to me that using search terms as a basis for anything is inherently biased towards technically savvy citizens. We Slashdotters are far in the minority - most of the population still gets most of it's news from CNN and the morning paper. Especially the voting majority.

      As an example, look at the Google Trends data with Ron Paul included [google.com]. Searches for Ron Paul were higher than for Obama in early January, yet he was never higher than 4th (3rd?) in the Republican caucuses/primaries. His popularity was on the Internet alone.

      • by witherstaff (713820) on Saturday June 07, 2008 @03:15PM (#23695555) Homepage

        Paul got 2nd in NV, after Romney. The NV state GOP convention was recessed indefinitely after it looked like Paul would get a majority of delegates and has yet to be reconvened. There are 2 competing conventions [politickernv.com] planned to finish the selection. The established GOP doesn't seem to like Paul very much.

        I find it amusing that as this year had such a huge turnout of primary voters it just made more problems for the 'old guard' in both camps. Maybe if even more Americans bothered with being involved we'd get something other than the continued Washington Payola cruft.

      • It seems to me that using search terms as a basis for anything is inherently biased towards technically savvy citizens.
        It's about as reliable as a telephone poll in 1948 when a lot of folk still didn't have their own phone, or in 2008 when a lot of folk have traded in their land lines for mobile phones.
      • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

        by moosesocks (264553)
        I think most of the Ron Paul searches were geared mostly along the lines of "Who the hell is this guy...."

        and were in many cases followed by
        "This guy's absolutely crazy"

        Although he was an appealing candidate on the surface (Fiscally conservative, against Iraq, etc....), once you dug a little deeper, there were many things about him that didn't sit well with most voters (He literally voted against everything that crossed his desk, and was tied to some pretty scary people in the 90s)

        Had a more reasonable cand
    • As you can see, Clinton has recently become MORE than evil...

      http://www.google.com/trends?q=clinton%2C+evil&ctab=0&geo=all&date=all&sort=0 [google.com]
  • Old farts (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Hankapobe (1290722) on Saturday June 07, 2008 @02:25PM (#23695131)
    Folks, especially you statisticians out there, what's wrong with these pictures?

    The sample: folks on the internet.

    Who's missing: folks who aren't on the internet; like old farts, poor people and Amish. As far as the old farts are concerned: they are the most well organized and the most vocal political group in this country. I think these charts reflect nothing.

    • Sure, and this is part of the reason why many states in the South or states that like certain candidates don't work as well with predicting. Google Trends itself currently only uses a relatively small sample size, too, exacerbating the problem. But these charts certainly do not reflect *nothing* -- just be careful what conclusions you draw.
      • But these charts certainly do not reflect *nothing* -- just be careful what conclusions you draw.

        OK, so they reflect trends on the internet and folks who are active on the internet: nothing else.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by no1home (1271260)
          But these charts certainly do not reflect *nothing* -- just be careful what conclusions you draw.

          OK, so they reflect trends on the internet and folks who are active on the internet: nothing else.


          Exactly. The author states several times that this ONLY looks at a small subset of the population, that this is NOT a proper statistical analysis. Oh, wait, this is /. Nobody here RTFA.
          • The author states several times that this ONLY looks at a small subset of the population, that this is NOT a proper statistical analysis. Oh, wait, this is /. Nobody here RTF

            You know what? I read TFA a few times. There is just vague references for not drawing conclusions, in other words; just CYA. They do not say anything specific. So, don't get all sanctimonious with me about reading the fucking article.

          • Oh wait... (Score:1, Troll)

            by Hankapobe (1290722)
            The asshole who published this now has a disclaimer. So, fuck you in accusing me for not reading the goddamn article.
            • Yeah, your feedback made me realize that I was being unclear, so I added a "disclaimer", preceded by the word "Update:", to ensure that nobody actually takes this as statistically valid. Sure, you can't conclude anything about this year's race based on my article. But my entire point with this is to show people that there's this tool out there, that can provide a lot of useful information to candidates, which they don't seem to be using. I'm not trying to push any kind of agenda or act a**holish.
            • by no1home (1271260)
              Let's recap:

              You read the article. Good for you.

              In my statement,"Oh, wait, this is /. Nobody here RTFA," I was making a generalization. Any broad, sweeping statement, such as those beginning with 'nobody', should automatically be presumed a generalization, a statement clearly false at the surface, but based on some nugget of information. It's painfully clear than many /. commenters do not RTFA. Thus, the generalization. I didn't point you out as one who failed this. You assumed this simply because I wrot
    • It's not just poor, old and Amish. Who gets counted in this "poll"? The tech savvy, the people who practically live on the 'net, those that feel the urge to tell the whole world their political view.

      This is neither a majority nor a representative sample. I do predict an overwhelming victory for Obama according to those polls, even though I am almost certain McCain is going to win the election.
      • Pray to god that McCain (which means "Son of Cain", as in the bible, Cain, the guy who killed his brother,) is going to go down in glorious defeat and that we'll all be able to deal with reality instead.
        • I think he already hogged God pretty well.

          As a friend of mine put it in resignation, no matter if Clinton or Obama, McCain is gonna win. Simply because Clinton is not man enough and Obama not white enough to be prez.

          I hate to say it, but I guess that's how it's gonna be.
    • I think these charts reflect nothing.
      That may be, but I doubt it. I agree that the sample probably does not accurately reflect the voting population. However, as a young, internet-using old fart who happens to be a former statistician, I ask, why are these charts as good as they are at predicting the results?
    • by Eil (82413)
      *sigh* Fine, fine, I'll get off your lawn, you don't have to yell...
    • by Z34107 (925136)

      What's voter mobilization as for as "poor people" and "Amish" are concerned? Since anecdote == data, my grandparents get some of their news on the internet, and I would suspect that some old farts might influence/be influenced by those un-old-farts doing the searching.

      It's not a proper random sample, and it suffers from response bias. But with a near 90% success rate, I wonder how it compares to exit polls and the like.

      Also, the elderly are more likely to vote, but census data since they're outnumbere

    • by Vornzog (409419)

      I think these charts reflect nothing.

      Only if you read the charts at face value. Instead of trying to interpret messy search volume data, ask what the charts, considered together instead of individually, say about the circumstances which generated the data.

      While you can't draw any hard statistical conclusions due to heavy sampling bias (which TFA acknowledges), you can make some interesting observations.

      Here's what I notice. The models worked pretty well for the Democratic primaries, but hardly predicted anything about the Republican primari

    • by tuxicle (996538)

      Folks, especially you statisticians out there, what's wrong with these pictures?
      Also, searching for one of the candidates doesn't necessarily mean they're more popular, at least not necessarily in a good way. I'd imagine if the interwebs were nearly as popular in 89-93, Dan Quayle would have been the most popular VP ever.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 07, 2008 @02:31PM (#23695199)
    There are still a lot of people without computers/internet/education that won't be using Google, thus you could seriously under-represent the base of a particular candidate. Dewey defeat Truman, anyone?
  • by jeske (7383) on Saturday June 07, 2008 @02:44PM (#23695319) Homepage
    The author is quick to dismiss using "Obama" and "Hilary" as the indicator terms for fear that Obama's huge online campaign popularity is not representative of the true popularity of the two candiates.

    However, he makes no mention of the fact that "Obama" and "Hillary" are the most popularly used terms to refer to the candidates. Almost all candidates are refferred to primarily by their last names. Hilary is a special case where we use her first name because her husband was so recently president.

    His use of "Barack" and "Hilary" is about as statistically accurate as using "Barack" and "Rodham". Fortunatly, this inaccuracy is obviously visible in his numbers, because using his first-name method it quickly looks like Edwards might be a write-in candidate to rival them both.

    Please slashdot, stop posting braindead stories.
    • The popularity of Barack Obama's first name is probably because of its other-ness. It's not a very common name, as opposed to John (Edward/McCain), or Ron (Paul), or whoever (AdMITTably "Mitt" (get it?) is an odd one too). Obama's whole name (don't forget "Hussein") is a subject of a lot of talk.

      The popularity of Hillary Clinton's first name is a little simpler. Her campaign has actively encouraged use of her first name ("Hillary 2008"). This is certainly to differentiate her from her husband, but there ar
  • by MSTCrow5429 (642744) on Saturday June 07, 2008 @02:46PM (#23695349)
    "For the Republican Primaries, last names could easily be used. Ron Paul was excluded. His last name is too common. Using his full name is not a good solution either, because he had massive popularity on the Internet, becoming a meme of sorts, which did not at all correspond with his actual successes (or lack thereof) in the primaries."

    So, in other words, any data that contradicts the hypothesis will be thrown out.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by CecilZephyr (1303773)
      Good thing someone did compare Ron Paul to everyone else in Google Trends: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7iW5kOB1pmg [youtube.com]
    • That assessment isn't quite fair. One could make a reasonable argument that the Ron Paul campaign was one that would have biased any polling of this sort, appealing to the type of demographic that would google candidate's names and spend time look up this information. The Paul crowd was different from that which would search McCain or Huckabee, so avoid this distortion, the author left off Paul.

      That is to say, Ron Paul was a consuming cult that was able to organize a massive, yet still a niche, support grou
  • by mgiuffrida (1303757) on Saturday June 07, 2008 @02:53PM (#23695401)
    Hey, guys, You're all right. There are serious statistical flaws here. I chose the keywords "hillary" and "barack" and "edwards" because that was the model that showed the best success. If one were actually predicting this live, he or she would soon see that "hillary" and "barack" do produce better results and would switch to those terms, simply because it fits the model better. Every election will have its outliers (Obama, Ron Paul). But hopefully this brief overview will provoke some campaign analysts to actually try to interpret Google Trends results for themselves, using more advanced models.
  • The choice of presidential candidates tells me is that it does not matter who gets in the WhiteHouse because there is something more powerful behind the scenes who is really pulling the strings, International bankers? (Builderburgers) multi-national corporations? BIG money.

    Most of the time conspiracy theorists sound whacko to me but sometimes they sure sound like they have a little insight most people are not aware of.

  • Does this mean that the next President of the United States will be Tila Tequila?

    • I just hope that Russians, Chinese and the French will have enough good taste to nuke the remains of the Country Formerly Known as United States of America into oblivion.
  • by yulek (202118) on Saturday June 07, 2008 @03:44PM (#23695769) Homepage Journal
    i've been using google trends for several years to see what information people really need as they go about their daily lives.

    Global Warming vs. Paris Hilton [google.com]

    Global Warming vs. Iraq [google.com]

    (ignore the bottom chart, it is irrelevant to my study)
  • Basically I'm wondering "WTF is this supposed to be measuring?"

Ever notice that even the busiest people are never too busy to tell you just how busy they are?

Working...