In the cosmic scale, we are all newcomers -- a little uptick at the very, very end of the universe's timeline. In the scale of the history of politics in the United States, the era of the Internet and social media and Google searches is only slightly better; a little shift down there at the end once you get past the Continental Congress and the Civil War and the Civil Rights Act and all of that. We have these new tools that pump out information beyond what any human could parse, and we try to make sense of it. Sure, Donald Trump dominates on Twitter, but what does it mean? Or, better, does it mean anything at all?
Over the course of this campaign, we've been dipping into Google's data, scattering the entrails of people's searches for Trump and Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton in front of us, trying to divine some meaning. We've looked at this in the context of the debates, but then this tripped over the transom -- a look at search traffic in a small state on a big day.
Kasich is really trending. People are clearly thinking about him at last minute. https://t.co/CLKI27wsip
— Stephens-Davidowitz (@seththoughts) February 9, 2016
John Kasich? Tending in New Hampshire? Is that true? And if so, how does this clarify or cloud the crystal ball?
The graph in that tweet is confusing. Another way to look at it is over a longer time period. On Google's proprietary scale of search interest, which runs from 0 to 100, this is how the post-Iowa search traffic in New Hampshire has looked for the five Republicans doing best in the polls. (We're mostly only interested in the candidate who will come in second, since we assume Trump will win easily.)
In the past day or so, Kasich has surged past the other four.
Of course, we don't know what these New Hampshirites are searching for. Maybe there's been a big spike in searches for "how do I keep John Kasich from winning the New Hampshire primary." If so, that doesn't show in the Google data, which is mostly just searches for people's names. The Google search data revealed to the public is limited.
Within the inscrutable borg that is Google itself, though, they know exactly who's Googling what and how it flits through the intricate gears of the U.S.A. And here's one thing about John Kasich that people are searching for.
Even once the votes are counted, we likely still won't know exactly how much this told us. If Kasich outperforms the polls but Jeb Bush does, too, what does that tell us? If Kasich collapses and Trump gets 50 percent, how does that figure in?
We're new to this. For now, we just look at those weird lights in the night sky and pick out animal shapes.