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Googling the WTO: What Search Engine Data Tell Us About the Political Economy of Institutions

International Organization, Forthcoming

38 Pages Posted: 12 Oct 2011 Last revised: 15 Sep 2014

Krzysztof Pelc

McGill University

Date Written: March 26, 2012


How does international law affect state behavior? Existing models addressing this issue rest on individual preferences and voter behavior, yet these assumptions are rarely questioned. Do citizens truly react to their governments being taken to court over purported violations? This article proposes a novel approach to testing the premise behind models of international treaty-making, using web search data. Such data are widely used in epidemiology; here I claim that they are at least as well-suited to applications in political economy. Web searches provide a unique proxy for a fundamental political activity which we otherwise have little sense of: the seeking of information. This article purports that information-seeking by constituents can be usefully examined as an instance of political mobilization. Applying web search data to international trade disputes, I provide evidence for the belief that U.S. citizens are concerned about their country being branded a violator of international law, even when they have no direct material stake in the case at hand. This paper constitutes a first attempt at utilizing web search data to test the building blocks of political economy theory.

Suggested Citation

Pelc, Krzysztof, Googling the WTO: What Search Engine Data Tell Us About the Political Economy of Institutions (March 26, 2012). International Organization, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: or

Krzysztof Pelc (Contact Author)

McGill University ( email )

1001 Sherbrooke St. W
Montreal, Quebec H3A 1G5

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