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The Stephen Colbert effect

at 01:22 PM ET, 01/18/2012

Ever since comedian Stephen Colbert announced his intentions to explore a candidacy for president in South Carolina, we’ve wondered whether he might have any impact on the actual Republican primary race.

To be clear: Colbert missed the state’s filing deadline and South Carolina has no write-in vote option. So, Colbert isn’t going to get any real votes or even be on the ballot. (He is urging his supporters to vote for businessman Herman Cain who is on the South Carolina ballot but no longer in the race.)

But, just because Colbert isn’t on the South Carolina ballot doesn’t mean he doesn’t matter in the race. Colbert can function as a major distraction/sideshow for the candidates actually running. (People underestimate the reach and influence of Colbert and Jon Stewart at their own peril.)

Colbert’s non-run has drawn huge amounts of headline — and cable television chatter — over the past week. And, thanks to the good folks at Google, we can now see that Colbert’s fake candidacy is having an impact in search traffic — both nationally and in the Palmetto State.

Here’s a look at search traffic for the candidates (and Colbert) among South Carolinians:

During that time period, searches for Colbert increased by 260 percent over the previous week in South Carolina as compared to a 23 percent increase for Texas Rep. Ron Paul. (Every other candidate in the race dropped in search traffic as compared to the previous week.)

And, just for kicks, here’s a chart of national search traffic for the Republican candidates/Colbert over the past week.

Search traffic is, of course, an imperfect measure. (It’s impossible to say, for example, how many South Carolina Republicans are searching for Colbert’s name.)

But the two charts above do suggest that Colbert is having an impact on the political dialogue both in South Carolina and nationally. Which is, of course, exactly what he wants.

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