How we’re Googling the election

November 6, 2012

Megan Garber at The Atlantic passes along the following chart, showing web searches for "who is running for president" from 2004 to the present:

Before you get too depressed, it's important to note that many of these searches were conducted in other countries. Not that the US-only chart is particularly encouraging, especially when you loop in people asking a more basic question:

More importantly, these charts don't use an absolute scale. The day with the most searches for the term is given the value "100", and days with fewer searches are ordered on a 0 to 100 scale based on how far away they are from the number of searches on the busiest day. So it's not necessarily true that hordes of Americans are Googling to see who's running. The likelier explanation is that a few people do that, and those who do wait to do it until pretty late in the game, as one would expect. Moreover, if you look at searches for the various candidates, the patterns become somewhat more predictable:

Searches for Paul Ryan surge when he's picked in August, and searches for him and Paul Ryan surge during the RNC, followed by a small boost for Biden and Obama during the DNC. Then bumps for post candidates after debates, including Ryan and Biden after the VP debate. Peoples' Internet research, in other words, follows the patterns you'd expect it to.

Be sure to also check out my colleague Hayley Tsukayama's piece on using searches as election signals.

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Brad Plumer · November 6, 2012