Thursday, April 9, 2009

2008 Republican Presidential Candidate Emergence: The View Through Google Trends

To avoid chart saturation here, I'll break this examination of 2008 GOP candidates into three parts. The first part will focus on Republican candidate emergence during the invisible primary, the second part will drop Ron Paul in the context of 2007 to better ascertain search volume shifts during the latter half of that year, and finally part three will look at how things changed once primary season began.

As I mentioned in the series of posts investigating the shifts in Democratic candidate search volumes, the early speculation following the 2004 election and entering the 2008 invisible primary centered on a potential John McCain-Hillary Clinton general election. Well, the US got half of that last November, but early on Google searches favored both the New York senator and the Arizona senator overall. On the Republican side, though, there certainly is McCain red hovering over the other colors across much of the 2005-2006 period. And that's somewhat in keeping with the "next one in line" nominations that the GOP has had more often than not throughout the last generation.

But the full invisible primary (2005-2007) time series does not really provide us with the true nature of McCain's search volume relative to his most viable competitors for the nomination (for reasons that seem obvious simply by looking at the charts, but that FHQ will get into momentarily). If we zoom in on each of the three years individually, though, we get a better glimpse of what McCain's real advantage was. Again, McCain's volume is ahead of the other five candidates through 2005 (other than when Fred Thompson shot up in the summer when Sandra Day O'Connor announced her retirement from the Supreme Court and the former Tennessee senator was named by the Bush administration as the head of an informal group to guide her replacement, John Roberts, through the confirmation process.). Now, it is important to note here that there are no doubt endogeneity issues here as the media coverage of events in the political realm certainly has an impact on the volume of search traffic for a particular keyword. In other words, a search for anyone of these candidates is not necessarily a presidential run-related search.

However, that certainly changes somewhat as attention shifts toward the presidential race at the conclusion of the 2006 midterms (see above). All six candidates see at least a modest jump following the elections that brought the Democrats back into control of both houses of Congress. Again though, McCain is ahead across much of that year.

Heading into 2007 that progression continues. Mitt Romney's stock rises and finally surpasses McCain during the summer 2007 low point for the Arizona senator's campaign. More interestingly, though, Fred Thompson's search volume increases upon the formation of his presidential candidacy exploratory committee. The online chatter behind his potential candidacy continued into the summer months. As McCain's prospects waned, Thompson's grew. But Thompson's strength was as a potential candidate. Upon officially entering the race in September 2007, the former Tennessee senator quickly underwhelmed hopeful conservatives, losing ground online.

Of course, much of this Thompson spike is -- which is really quite an interesting case of candidate emergence -- is clouded by the sudden and consistent growth of Ron Paul online. The Texas congressman's close in 2007 dwarfed even Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton's heading into the election year. And those were two of the top three candidates in a Democratic field most Democratic voters were very enthusiastic about. Despite the following online (and this was something the power of which FHQ readers were recently reminded of), Paul just wasn't a serious candidate, and his numbers affect our ability to see the movement among the other five candidates who were all viable options heading into 2008.

Before examining the 2008 context, though, we'll look at the GOP invisible primary sans Ron Paul. Fred Thompson searches will appear much more significant and we'll better see the movement around other candidates (especially Mike Huckabee after his Iowa straw poll win and Fred Thompson's false start.). That's where we'll turn our attention next.

Recent Posts:
What About 2008? Democratic Presidential Candidates Through the Lens of Google Trends

From One Contest to Another: Ohio Redistricting Competition

Newt on 2012: "We'll See"


Jack said...

How do you get Google Trends to do more than five search terms simultaneously?

Josh Putnam said...

I take the Google Trends data and import it into Google Docs to make the charts. So basically I took the data on the five candidates minus Ron Paul and then replaced Thompson with Paul and tacked on the extra column in the spreadsheet.

Technically, then, I could have added more candidates (in both examinations), but I'm just lazy.

I'm planning on doing a daily tracker of prospective 2012 GOP candidates and that will likely require more than five search terms as well.

Jack said...

Doesn't it scale differently based on who is included, making it impossible to import to a spreadsheet? Or is it only based on the top one? Even the latter would be a problem with Paul considering his search volume in some years.

Josh Putnam said...

Yes, there are subtle differences between the two sets of data. I averaged across the two for the overlapping candidates.

The differences weren't large -- a couple .1s here a couple of .2s there -- but that does introduce some potential bias that needs to be accounted for.