During his last-minute news conference in the Rose Garden on Wednesday, President Trump made passing reference to the “I-word,” the word that’s been rumbling around Washington frequently these days, the background noise to the city’s normal clamor.
It’s a subject hard to avoid hearing about — and for the media and politicians, seemingly hard to avoid talking about. In the past few weeks, Democratic members of the House and Senate have released no fewer than 33 statements using the word “impeachment” explicitly, a surge that followed the release of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report last month. Even Republicans are caught up in the excitement, with 11 statements of their own.
The report has also led to a bumper crop of impeachment talk on the news. The Internet Archive catalogues closed-captioning from cable news networks and broadcast stations in the San Francisco Bay area. From the appointment of Mueller in May 2017 to the report’s release last month, there was a steady (but not massive) discussion of the subject. Once the report came out, that spiked.
(For those curious: The broadcast figure above is an average of the daily percentage of 15-second segments mentioning impeachment in news programs on San Francisco’s ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox and PBS stations.)
Since the beginning of the year, online news coverage that mentions impeachment has been fairly steady, according to analysis of online coverage compiled by the GDELT Summary project.
The suggestion is that this is a subject that has captured the public imagination. The I-word, suddenly everywhere. But then we look at Google’s search data since the beginning of the year, and things look a bit different.
In general, Google searches seem like a decent proxy for public interest, given the search engine’s ubiquity and the tendency of people to seek more information on popular subjects (particularly nuanced ones like the potential removal of a president from office). Google aggregates impeachment-related searches into one search entity — interest in which peaked shortly after the new year.
(Google search interest is indexed to the peak search interest in a time period, which is given a value of 100.)
Over a longer time span, we see that there was much more interest in the term when Mueller was appointed than when his report was released.
Some polling seems to mirror this. CNN, for example, found that support for impeachment had declined by the end of 2018. Quinnipiac University polling released this month found a decline in support for impeachment, as well.
Of course, there are other metrics by which to evaluate interest in the subject. One is searches at online dictionaries, like Merriam-Webster.com. The company’s editor at large, Peter Sokolowski, provided The Post with some interesting metrics. For example, searches for “impeach” or “impeachment” spiked in August of last year (at the time when Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to multiple federal charges, including two that implicated Trump), in December (at the time of Cohen’s sentencing) and at the time of the release of the Mueller report.
Sokolowski also reports that searches for the I-word(s) have been nearly twice as high in the past two days than in the previous month by a factor. Year-to-date relative to 2018, though, interest in the terms is up more subtly.
The suggestion, then, is this: The rumbling that Trump is hearing is, to some significant extent, a function of soundwaves bouncing around the interior of the Beltway.