Part II – Tracking American Presidential Candidate Thought Trends with Google Insight

2012 POTUS Candidate Search

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Disclaimer: this post is not meant to be a political commentary on any party, nor is it an endorsement for any candidate. Please refrain from making political comments that are not directly related to the search industry and political search behavior; disrespectful comments will not be published. None of the statements below represent Link Fish Media, Inc.

The data reflected in this analysis was gathered between October 10th – 12th of 2012. Since publishing Part 1 in July, there have been a few significant developments in both the American election and in Google Insight:

  • Mitt Romney received the Republican nomination as its chosen presidential candidate, eliminating Ron Paul.
  • Google combined Insights with Trends as a tool, with a far superior UI. The new tool is keeping the name “Trends”.

For obvious reasons, I have chosen to delete Ron Paul from this case study, and have added the VP candidates in his place. The other variations from Part 1 are that a) I’ve included the top 2 states that pull the most electoral weight, California and Texas, as they seem to bear significant narrative in the American election process, and b) limited the time table to 2012 only. As previously, all trends shown are for the United States, limited to web-search only (as opposed to News, Images, or Products searches.)


Please note that “generic terms” in this analysis could include terms that overlap in an excessive nature and aren’t extremely relevant, such as the combination of candidate names like “romney obama” or “obama biden” or searches with “2012” and “news” attached. These generic terms are found in many states for each candidate, and as thus, they bear a significance in and of themselves as a search behavior. To reduce redundancy, however, these sprawling generic terms are not included in the rest of this report.

States Examined:

Swing States: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Wisconsin
Note: These states were combined from two different sources – and
Most liberal: Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington
Most conservative: Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina
Note: The two lists above were chosen from a list informed by a 2011 Gallop poll, taking population into account over percentage.
Top 2 electorally-significant: California (55 electoral votes), Texas (38 electoral votes).

Terms examined: Obama & Barack Obama, Romney & Mitt Romney, Joe Biden & Paul Ryan, and Michelle Obama & Ann Romney.

Obama & Barack Obama

The states searching for information about Obama (either phrase, totals combined) are Washington DC, Virginia, Maryland, Ohio, and New York. Generic search terms dominate related terms, and just as was the case in July, First Lady Michelle Obama appears among them. What does this say about American voters? Perhaps it says that even after four years, Americans are still driven to know more about the First Lady and view her role as very important indeed.

Noteworthy National Breakout Term

The #1 breakout term for Obama is “Obama 2016″, which is the title of a film released over the summer; the biographical film casts a critical/unfavorable light on the President.

Liberal State Trends

Each liberal state examined displays interest in speeches and the debates; also prevalent are “obama care”, “DNC”, and “polls”. States with geographic interest (presumably for speaking events and appearances) are Massachusetts, Oregon, and Washington. Massachusetts is searching for Obama’s Twitter page – it will be interesting to see where else social media manifests.

New York has an interesting search popping up – “Obama phone” – which stems from a video criticizing Obama for the Lifeline program, which provides cellphones for low income individuals. They’re also the only state examined that’s still searching for “Obama singing”, which had been an extremely popular search in July.

Conservative State Trends

Some of the terms showing up in conservative states are “flag” and “movie”; the latter refers to the aforementioned documentary, the former to a controversial flag flown over Lake County (FL) Democratic Party Headquarters which replaced the 50 stars with an image of Obama. Only Louisiana searchers are looking for geo-related terms.

To compare this analysis with Part 1, conservative states have undeniably ramped up searches since July. For Obama-related searches, queries have more than doubled since July.

Swing State Trends

How many swing states are among top searchers for this term nationally? 4 (Virginia, Florida, Ohio, North Carolina)

Obama Wisconsin Geo Heavy SearchesFewer swing states are searching for Obama’s speaking dates, but of the states that are, there are more queries. For instance, Nevada, Colorado, Wisconsin, and Ohio all have 3 or more geographic locations in their searches (appearances and speaking dates), but joining North Carolina in its lackadaisical approach to local appearances are Pennsylvania and Virginia. Swing states overall have a good mix of queries that show up in both liberal and conservative states, but with more searches with the word “bio” in them (which only showed up in the liberal state of New Jersey.)

Electorally-Significant State Trends

California searches like a liberal state (most Americans would agree that California is a fairly liberal state) but with an added Hollywood flourish: rising in popularity by 90% is the term “Barack Obama height”. They, too, are searching for Obama’s Twitter account. Trending in Texas searches are the same as trends in conservative states without exception, just at a higher volume.

Romney & Mitt Romney

Romney Nationwide Regional Interest

Regional Interest in Romney

The top 5 states searching for information about Mitt Romney are Utah, Idaho, New Hampshire, DC, and Massachusetts. As notes in Part 1, Utah has the highest Mormon population in the country, followed by Idaho. Romney, of course, was the governor of Massachusetts from ’03-’07. Regions that share a personal commonality with Romney are the most interested, it appears. The swing states are certainly conducting more complex searches for a range of issues.

National Noteworthy Breakout Term:

Nothing too unexpected here, although it is rather interesting that “Mitt Romney sons” has increased by 350% in search popularity, most of which are looking for Craig Romney. Perhaps this is due to the popularity of a “Hey Girl” Tumblr page featuring photos of Craig.

Liberal State Trends

At this point in the analysis, it’s becoming apparent that keywords with “tax”, “debate”, “speech”, “video”, and “polls” are as ever-present as generic keywords. All liberal states except Washington are searching for information about Romney’s dog incident. Washington, instead, is searching for information about Romney’s Mormonism; a rising search in New Jersey on Oct. 11 had the word “college” attached to it, but the trend disappeared quickly thereafter. This is what makes elections such fascinating subjects of search trends to study, especially with less than a month before voting day, when all major news outlets churn out political content daily.

Conservative State Trends

Even in 2012, conservative states are searching for Romney a lot less than Obama – about 80% less – which is somewhat surprising. Other than generic terms, the conservative states are searching for debate and poll information. Alabama is the only conservative state searching for Romney’s local speaking dates. South Carolina is searching for biographical information.

Swing State Trends

Mitt Romney Rising Terms in Florida

Rising terms for Romney in Florida.

In Florida, it’s almost humorous how Nicki Minaj, a pop star who has endorsed Romney, is among Romney’s top terms. Nicki Minaj’s #1 national breakout term in 2012 is “Nicki Minaj Romney”. “Nicki Minaj” curiously doesn’t show up in any other state but Texas, even though it’s the #1 breakout term for Romney on a national level. Perhaps the most interesting thing to manifest in this entire analysis is the last term in the image above: Mitt Romney Facebook. Social media has turned up once again, and for a Republican candidate. Obama’s social media terms were all for Twitter, and Romney’s only term is Facebook.

North Carolina seems to be the only state with a lack of interest in local speaking dates; Virginia and Colorado seem particularly interested in seeing Romney speak. Searches for Romney’s “views” and “issues” manifest only here, but in three different states: North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Six of the nine swing states are searching for terms related to the dog incident.

Electorally-Significant State Trends

A couple of new terms show up in electorally-rich California: “Romney Mexican” and “Romney Olympics”, speaking to the candidate’s experience with the Salt Lake City winter Olympics and his father’s birth on a Mormon colony in Chihuahua, Mexico. A Nicki Minaj-related term shows up as one of Texas’s related terms, as well as information about Ann Romney, taxes, and “Mitt Romney dog”, which doesn’t show up as a term in any of the conservative states studied.


Joe Biden & Paul Ryan

National Related Terms for VPs

National Related Terms for Vice Presidential Candidates

When compared side-by-side, it appears that searches about the vice presidential candidates are less generic and more specific. And perhaps to some, more entertaining. Chains, gaffes, and shirtlessness, indeed. Given the diversity of the issues here, a search for image trends between the candidate reveal that people are looking for photos of “young Joe Biden” and “Paul Ryan shirtless”.

Noteworthy National Breakout Term

“Joe Biden Biker” is the #1 breakout term for Biden, which refers to Biden’s somewhat controversial dining experience in Ohio with a female biker sitting on his lap. The #1 term for Paul Ryan is “Paul Ryan marathon”, which refers to Ryan’s admittedly exaggerated claim about his running time for a marathon.

Liberal State Trends

Hardly anyone is searching for Joe Biden in liberal states, with the exception of New York searching for “Joe Biden speech”. Oregon and Washington have very few search terms showing up for either VP candidate, but Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York are all looking for Paul Ryan “shirtless”. Other terms showing up for Ryan are “budget” and “plan”.

Conservative State Trends

Only Alabama and South Carolina had a single generic term for either candidate. None of the conservative states had enough search volume to consider anything “trending”.

Swing State Trends

Iowa and Nevada, like the conservative states, are not searching for either candidate. None of the swing states have search volumes for Joe Biden. For Ryan, however, most other states with search volume are looking for speaking dates, with the exception of Ohio, who are searching for “Paul Ryan Miami” (where Ryan attended college.) Florida and Pennsylvania seem to be the most interested in Ryan, as there are more biographical terms showing up here: “wife”, “bio”, and “wiki”.

Electorally-Significant State Trends

California wants to hear more gaffes from Joe Biden, and more information about specific gaffes from each: Joe Biden chains & Paul Ryan marathon. California is the only state searching for Paul Ryan’s wife by her name, Janna Ryan, rather than “Paul Ryan wife”. Texas has only one generic breakout term for Biden; it’s the usual searches for Paul Ryan, too: budget, polls, wife, shirtless, and plan all appear as rising terms.

Michelle Obama & Ann Romney

First Ladies 2012

This section of analysis is particularly telling when it comes to American life: we are clearly captivated by the personalities and convictions of our First women. The above image displays the spike of interest in 2012 in each woman, which happened during their respective political party’s convention – and perhaps largely due to the speeches they gave.

Noteworthy National Breakout Term

On a national level, more specific terms show up for the First Ladies than generic terms. This has not happened for any other candidate thus far. Among searches for Obama are the terms “Michelle Obama dress”, “Michelle Obama Ellen”, “Michelle Obama pregnant” and “Michelle Obama disbarred”. Ann Romney’s terms show terms such as “Ann Romney women”, “Ann Romney dressage”, “Ann Romney shirt”, and “Ann Romney MS”. The US takes such an interest in the fashion choices of these two women.

Liberal State Trends

The only trend for both women is the word “speech” in all states but Oregon, where there isn’t enough search volume happening for Ann Romney. Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey are all searching for Michelle Obama “dress”; New York is searching for information about Ann Romney’s MS and “Ann Romney women”. Washington is searching for speaking dates for Michelle Obama, specifically in Seattle.

Conservative State Trends

Not enough searches are happening in conservative states for Ann Romney, period. Alabama, Louisiana, and South Carolina are all searching for “Michelle Obama speech”.

Swing State Trends

All swing states are searching for “Michelle Obama speech” except Nevada, where there isn’t search volume for either woman. Florida, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania are particularly interested in Mrs. Obama as demonstrated by trending terms like “Michelle Obama pregnant”, “Michelle Obama dress”, and “Michelle Obama DNC”. Iowa, Nevada, and Wisconsin have no search volume for Mrs. Romney, but all other swing states only have “Ann Romney speech” trending.

Electorally-Significant State Trends

California is searching for all of the Michelle Obama terms already noted, with the absence of “Michelle Obama ellen” and “Michelle Obama disbarred”. The same can be said about Ann Romney’s terms, with the absence of “Ann Romney dressage” and “Ann Romney shirt”. In Texas, Romney’s only top trend is “speech”; Obama’s are “speech”, “dress”, “dnc”, “flag”, and “pregnant”.


Conservative Research Behavior Speculation Follow-up

Conservatives – or conservative states – do not conduct a significant amount of political research on Google. One of the Takeaways in Part 1 speculated that conservative states research politics closer to election day, but this has proven not to be the case. While there are more searches being done than before, it is in no way proportionate to liberal and swing states. This leads to the belief that conservatives rely on other mediums for election information – perhaps television or print news media.

Opposing Party Queries

Aside from biographical terms (wife, bio, wiki, etc.) a lot of searches for the candidates are related to controversy: “Obama care” and “Obama movie” show up predominantly in conservative states; “Romney dog” and “Romney tax” appear in liberal states. It’s tempting to speculate that Americans carry out more research about the unfavorable aspects of the candidate that they’re least likely to vote for; if one is examining search volume, the statement is false. If one is examining the issues on a partisan, state-by-state  review, the statement is true.

The exceptions to this are Utah and Idaho, who make up a scale-tipping portion of searches for both Mitt Romney and Ann Romney. A quick look at the top terms for Mitt Romney in these states yield  not one but three queries with the word “Mormon” in them, as well as speaking date information queries. Utah and Idaho both have rising terms for “speech” for Ann, and Utah may perhaps be the only state searching for Ann Romney at a higher frequency than Michelle Obama. In Idaho, Michelle and Ann have an even number of searches.

Social Media

Social media has a presence in searches for both candidates, as it should: the use of technology and social media polarized the American presidential election narrative in 2008. The fact that “twitter” is searched in correlation to Obama, and “facebook” to Romney, is a fascinating point that perhaps deserves more speculation from social media experts. It’s noticeably absent from Vice Presidential candidate and First Lady search queries.

Major & Absent Issue Findings

Obama care is by far the biggest issue for the Obama campaign where search is involved, followed somewhat by the flag incident in Florida. The Romney campaign seems to be evenly divided on the issues of his taxes and the incident with the family dog. The fact that “Bain” or “Bain Capital” make absolutely no appearance in Romney searches, not even in a swing state, is noticeably absent from all Romney-related searches. “Obama supreme court” is also noticeably absent, which had a 450% rise in January, as noted in Part 1.


About The Author

Rae Alton is the editor of Avant Greensboro.

1 Comment

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