Friday, April 10, 2009

2008 GOP Candidate Emergence, Part 2

This is part two in a series of examinations of the fluctuations in the volume of Republican candidate Google searches during the 2008 presidential election cycle. You can find part one (the invisible primary trends among the top six candidates) here.

As the figures in part one showed, once we get to the 2007 segment of the invisible primary time series, the exponential growth of Ron Paul's search volume detracts from our ability to see the trends among the viable Republican candidates vying for the GOP's 2008 nomination. When the Ron Paul data is suppressed, Fred Thompson and Mike Huckabee appear to be bigger players. Both at various points during the latter half of 2007 tower over their remaining competitors in terms of their Google search traffic. You can see that in the full (2005-2007) figure above, but the 2007 snapshot below is more indicative.

In many regards we can see both candidates spikes as inter-related. Huckabee didn't jump all that much after his win in the September Iowa straw poll, but his win there coupled with the failed roll-out of Fred Thompson's candidacy seemed to boost Huckabee's profile entering the caucuses in Iowa. Essentially though, we have two tracks going here; one representing each side of the Republican Party (in its simplest binary terms). Huckabee and Thompson best typified the social conservative wing of the party; the segment of the Republican base that seemed least represented by and least enthusiastic about this pool of candidates. So much of the Republican invisible primary was about either how McCain was attempting to appeal to those voters or who the alternative would be. Through that lens, Thompson/Huckabee was that alternative.

But there was another track here as well; a more moderate or economic conservative track. This was a three person race between McCain (once the Arizona senator's campaign hit the wall in the summer of 2007), Giuliani and Romney. Giuliani's progression throughout the year though isn't all that variable, and as such, this was more of a two person battle between Romney and McCain.
[This is where Glenn's point on polling the other day is interesting: Giuliani was leading many of the polls during 2007 (see below), yet had basically flatlined in terms of search volume.]

[Click Figure for Link to Actual Polls at]

And what we see in that 2007 Google search snapshot is that Romney rises and passes McCain as the Arizona senator is falling throughout 2007. The former Massachusetts governor, then stays ahead of McCain until the calendar turns and the contests begin. With those two simultaneous trends, the GOP side is a little more interesting from a candidate emergence perspective than the Democratic side. And that the search time series doesn't comport with the polling going on during the 2007 portion of the Republican invisible primary raises some questions for us to pursue here in the future, especially regarding Giuliani. Why is it that America's mayor was polling so well, but got so little interest online?

There seems to be a better match between the two metrics concerning the other candidates. Yes, there is a Huckabee lag from search data to polling and Romney is consistently behind, though, close to McCain during the final quarter of 2007. On the whole though, the rising and falling of each candidate roughly corresponds across both measures (it is a matter of shifting the whole line that differs across both) with the exception of Giuliani, whose numbers are widely divergent between the two.

These data are designed to elicit questions rather than answer them, and I think we've got that here.

Up Next: the GOP candidates in 2008

Recent Posts:
2008 Republican Presidential Candidate Emergence: The View Through Google Trends

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