Romney Convention Bounce in Google Search Volume Fails to Fade

In 2004 and 2008, search volume from June to September of the election remained about even between the two major party candidates, but this year is different.

The chart above illustrates comparative search volumes for the names of the two major party candidates (no quotes) from the 21st to 6th week before the election. The conventions are noted.

Over the last several weeks, search volume for Mitt Romney on Google has far outpaced search volume for Barack Obama. While some of this gap can be explained by Barack Obama’s incumbency, the gap between John Kerry and George Bush in 2004 was much smaller. In all elections from 2004 onward, conventions produced a bounce in search volume for the hosting party, but this year search volume between the two candidates has failed to revert to a rough equilibrium.

Thanks to the vast wealth of data available at Google Trends, we can compare search volume between different terms over time, and within states and media markets. What Google Trends provides is indexed, not raw data, so the highest point is “100” for any given comparison. I pulled the Google search index for the presidential candidates in the period from June to September, with data in the table at the end of the post.

As can be expected, George W. Bush in 2004 was a well-known incumbent, and received little convention bounce in search volume compared to his challenger. 2008 was an open-seat race, so both candidates holding back to back conventions traded search leads, with Barack Obama going through September slightly ahead. This year, though, searches for Mitt Romney have continued to far outpace that of Barack Obama even after the conventions are gone.

What gives? The reason behind the coloring of this tea leaf depends on your partisanship. Google search volume is hardly the most indicative tea leaf, but there is a vast trove of interesting data to play with. It is rather hard to write about data like this without putting some spin on it.

As a Democrat, I’d like to believe that all these searches for Mitt Romney are because even Romney has failed to define himself. Incumbent-challenger elections are frequently referendums on the well-known incumbents. Republicans this year sorely wanted this election to be about Barack Obama and his economy. Mitt Romney’s campaign has managed to get this far without being able to define himself: and Democrats have filled in the gap. Strangely enough, this year’s election is increasingly becoming more about how Mitt Romney is a job-destroying, out-of-touch Richie McRich than it is on Barack Obama.

If you’re a Republican, you’d like to believe that interest in Mitt Romney is riding high. Voters are clamoring to see more information about this year’s alternative. Why would anyone search for a candidate you already know about in Barack Obama? Voters already know how the Obama economy has worked for them, and they want to know who Mitt Romney is.

Truth be told, I have no idea what Mitt Romney truly believes in, and you probably don’t either. What do you do if you don’t really know what a candidate stands for these days?

Just Google it.

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