What Google tells us about the State of the Union speech

February 13, 2013

The Fix is, admittedly, a creature of the Beltway. It's where we work and where we live. Many of the people we talk to are also denizens of the nation's capital.

And so we are always looking for ways to get beyond the Beltway conventional wisdom and figure out how major political events were consumed and perceived by the rest of the country.

The Internet generally and the good folks at Google specifically have made doing just that much, much easier.  The behemoth search engine has taken to crunching their data in the aftermath of things like debates and presidential speeches to paint a picture of what people -- or at least those who have or use computers during these events -- are interested in.

Here's the chart they produced based on search interest before, during and after the State of the Union:

What's interesting about the chart is that it confirms what we have long known about television viewership of these big political events -- which is that the beginning and the end tend to draw the most eyeballs and, therefore, matter more.

The same is also true when it comes to search interest in the speech with the highest peaks coming in the first and last 20 minutes of the address.  After about the 9:20 pm mark, interest fades relatively consistently -- though not precipitously -- with smallish spikes around Obama's call to redesign America's high schools and his repeated urgings for Congress to vote on his gun control proposals.

One surprising thing -- at least to us: There wasn't a larger spike in search traffic following Obama's "Gabby Giffords deserves a vote....The families of Newtown deserve a vote" which was quite clearly the emotional centerpiece of the address.

What Google tells us: The first 15 minutes and the last 15 minutes of these speeches are what really matters. The rest is sort of window dressing.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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Sean Sullivan | February 13, 2013