President Trump’s primary focus over the past two weeks has been immigration. He’s railed against a caravan of migrants slowly making its way north from southern Mexico; he’s excoriated illegal immigration at every opportunity. He’s said repeatedly that the midterm elections would be about immigration and law and order (and the fight over the nomination of Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, though that comes up less these days).
In late September, before this big focus on the subject emerged, immigration was generally among the top 10 or 20 politically related search terms in congressional districts on Google, according to data the search giant shared with us. Interestingly, the more heavily a congressional district supported Trump in 2016, the lower immigration ranked: Districts that backed Hillary Clinton by more than 20 points ranked immigration about third on average; those that backed Trump by more than 20 ranked it about seventh.
By late October, though, that had changed. With only a few exceptions, immigration was among the five most-searched political topics across congressional districts.
To some extent, the conversation has been changed. Unsurprisingly, given that more Trump-supportive districts generally ranked the issue lower in September, those districts saw immigration jump more in the rankings.
The effect, from an electoral standpoint, was that contested races that were leaning toward Republicans saw a bigger surge in searches for immigration. Districts leaning Democratic (according to Cook Political Report’s rankings) already had immigration among their highest-ranked topics. (There’s only one Democratic toss-up district, as of Thursday, for what it’s worth.)
This would seem to be good news for the president, at least in shaping the electoral narrative. But as we noted in September, there’s been one clear winner in Google’s political search trends this year: health care. Week after week, health care has been the most-searched political subject in congressional districts.
Even after the surge in immigration searches in the past month, most congressional districts still see more searches for health-care-related political subjects than for immigration. On average, that’s true in each of the contested districts, though in 39 contested races — 27 Republican-leaning — immigration had surpassed health care.
Put simply: Over the past month, more attention has turned to immigration. Trump’s effort, it seems, has to some extent paid off.