The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Google prompts a Spanish language spike for ‘register to vote’ — especially in Florida

A voter registration table from 2013. (Dayna Smith/For the Washington Post).

Tuesday was National Voter Registration Day. To the extent that you were aware of this, it was probably because you, like me, were greeted with a prompt to ensure you were registered when you went to Facebook to see what some-guy-you-went-to-high-school-with's baby looks like. Or maybe you visited Google, where the daily doodle was focused on the subject.

If people clicked that, they were taken to a search page for "how to register to vote." Or, in Spanish, "registrarse para votar." After that push, Google saw a huge spike in searches for the Spanish-language phrase.

Hispanic Americans typically vote at much lower rates than other groups. Census Bureau data suggests that Hispanics turn out for presidential elections at about the rate non-Hispanic white Americans turn out for midterms. There are a variety of reasons for this, but it has been a focus of Hispanic organizations for some time to boost those numbers. It has also been a priority for Democrats, particularly this year. Hispanics tend to vote more heavily Democratic than Republican, and activists see an opportunity this year given Donald Trump's disparaging comments about Mexican immigrants.

For those curious about the effect of this registration interest on the presidential election, of course, the graph above doesn't quite cut it. The New York Times' Nate Cohn noted on Twitter that the search increase correlated to major Hispanic population centers, which is what you'd expect to see. (More Spanish-speakers; more Spanish-language searches.)

Data provided to The Post by Google, though, allows us to go a bit deeper. The company provided us with relative search interest by state, allowing us to get a better sense of where Spanish-language searches were higher or lower than might be expected, given the Hispanic population in each place.

In this case, the state where Spanish-language searches for "register to vote" most outperformed the population was Florida. It saw the most search interest for the term, earning it a 100 on Google's scale. Florida has a reputation for being heavily Hispanic, but only a quarter of the population actually is, according to Census Bureau data. That makes it the state with the third-largest Hispanic population nationally. But it had far more searches for "register to vote" in Spanish than Texas or California — states with more Hispanics but aren't battlegrounds.

The dashed line there is the general trend for every state besides the three biggest. Dots to the left of the line had relatively more searches; dots to the right (excluding Florida, Texas and California) had relatively fewer. So New Jersey, Nevada and Nebraska all overperformed in this regard. New York and Illinois underperformed — not that Democrats are worried about the results there. Arizona, a potential battleground this year, was right in line.

We are a few steps removed here from having an effect on the election. Searching for "how to register" isn't registering; registering isn't voting. For those hoping to see a spike in Hispanic turnout in 40 days, though, this is the sort of spike they'd want to see — and, it seems, in precisely the right place.

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