But then, there’s another problem with trying to blame the shutdown on your political opponents: How many people actually know it happened?
After all, the shutdown began at midnight Saturday, ran through Sunday and was apparently resolved by about midday Monday. (It’s not actually over, as of this writing, because the House needs to vote on an amended proposal from the Senate, and President Trump needs to sign the measure to fund the government.) So basically the shutdown will probably end up covering one non-weekend day.
We know that Americans spend less time paying attention to the news on weekends, so if 22 percent of Americans have never heard of the most powerful Democrat in the Senate, how many didn’t hear that there was a shutdown going on?
We can turn to Google Trends, a tool from Google that allows users to compare the popularity of search terms on the site. It’s an interesting way to get a sense for what sorts of things are capturing the public’s imagination.
Searches for “government shutdown” began to spike Jan. 19, the day before the shutdown went into effect. By Sunday, though, those searches had faded. As a baseline, we included searches for “Donald Trump,” one of the more popular search terms on Google pretty consistently over the past few years. (He used to regularly see fewer searches for his name than Kim Kardashian; now, he consistently gets far more.)
This happens a lot with news items, though. Something will happen and then interest in the term will spike and quickly fade. In terms of the size of the spike, we introduce two other search terms that spiked over the weekend, each on Sunday afternoon.
On Monday morning, the term “Philadelphia Eagles” was getting more search interest than “government shutdown.” I mean, look, the NFL is one of the most popular things in the United States. But even so, a shutdown of the federal government could only muster about 60 percent as much interest at its peak as did “New England Patriots.”
These results are for the entire United States, and searches in the Northeast for the Pats and in Pennsylvania for the Eagles certainly boosted the overall interest in those terms. In about half of states, “government shutdown” was the most searched term over the past week. Trump was the top term in 16 states. The shutdown was the top search term of the four in the District.
Shortly after the shutdown was averted, the Twitter trends-tracking site Trendsmap showed a lot of interest in the shutdown (and also the Super Bowl).
But we can also judge the relative interest in the shutdown by comparing it with the last time the government shuttered, which happened in 2013. During the week that the government closed in October of that year (it stayed closed for 16 days), interest in the shutdown was twice the interest seen in the week ending Saturday.
Over the next week or so, there will probably be a new poll gauging who people blame for this most recent shutdown. Included in those numbers, I hope, will be the option for those who were not aware it happened. Will the United States be more aware that its government shut down or that Chuck Schumer exists? Can’t wait to find out.
As for that all-important hashtag battle, Google Trends is ready to declare a winner.