Step one to registering to vote is figuring out how to register to vote. And step one to figuring out how to do something in 2018 is to Google it.
In presidential election years, there are generally two surges when people search Google to figure out how to register to vote. After the doldrums of the year before the election, there’s a little surge right at the beginning of the year the election is being held as people realize they want to vote in their party primaries. Then, in the fall, there’s a big spike in registration searches.
In midterm election years, that pattern looks different. People wake up from their slumber in the late summer and, yawning, sometimes try to figure out how to register to vote.
The people who most frequently vote in midterm elections are those people who vote all the time anyway and who know that they’re already registered. Searching for “register to vote,” then, is probably a good measure of how much interest new voters have in the election.
Which brings us to the current midterm election. People are searching “register to vote” at near-presidential-election levels — suggesting a surge in interest among less frequent voters.
We asked Google’s search team to provide us with data on searches for the term in each of the three most recent midterm cycles by state. Over and over, the pattern is the same: a big spike in searches last month that dwarfs searches in 2010 or 2014. (The charts below are relative to state trends, with the change in interest measured against the same peak, which came Sept. 25 in Texas.)
There was another peak at the tail end of the 2018 searches that corresponds with Oct. 7 and 8. (Oct. 8 was the most recent day for which data were provided.) Several states had registration deadlines around that time, but it’s worth noting that this was also right after pop singer Taylor Swift called on young people to register. Searches had been trending upward for several days before that, though.
Averaging the data across all states, the pattern is obvious. 2018 does not look like 2010 or 2014 in terms of searches for voter registration information.
As with most other election-related metrics, it’s not clear how much significance this has. But the prospect of a wave election powered by newly motivated voters seems as though it would look much more like this than like the search pattern from, say, 2010.