[Image Courtesy of irregulartimes.com. Click to Enlarge]
Now sure, Google itself warns against using their Labs-designated (read: not quite ready for primetime) Trends tool data for heavy duty research, which this isn't, so I couldn't help myself. The good folks at Irregular Times got the ball rolling on this in terms of tracking the 2012 Republican candidates' emergence in real time, but that only tells us a little bit of the story. Google Trends stretches back to January 2004 and that affords us the opportunity to track the fluctuations of the 2008 candidates on both sides as a baseline for comparison.
But here's the thing: I actually prefer the Google data over the Cafe Press search data. Yes, Irregular Times makes the point that Google search data pulls in all the search data regardless of whether you were looking up John McCain in 2006 in the context his 2008 presidential bid or some legislative work he was doing on the Hill. I can buy that. And while the benefits of using the Cafe Press search data (searching for actual candidate-related merchandise) are that we are gaining strength of attachment, the drawback is that we are potentially losing out on data concerning searches that while not as strong, are still related to these candidates in terms of the presidency. In other words, I'd like to take the larger view and try to narrow the scope somehow than narrow things unnecessarily right off the bat and miss something important.
[Fine FHQ, what's the point?]
This actually settles quite nicely into the realm of political science. The very first thing I thought of when I saw this data was issue evolution. The classic model constructed Carmines and Stimson (1981) looked at issue changes (such as on racial issues during the 20th century) on two planes. First, issue stances change over time, but secondly, their evolution takes place at the elite level within the party (in terms of perception and actions in Congress) and works its way down to the mass level affecting perceptions on the issues there.
This obviously has a link to the invisible primary period we are in now ahead of 2012. No, it isn't terribly active right now. Not at the mass level, at least. But there's no doubt there is jockeying going on at the elite level and that ultimately finds its way down to the masses. This approach has already seen some attention within the literature. Cohen, et. al (2003, 2005, 2008) have examined this at the elite level, tracking candidates' efforts to woo donors and high-profile endorsements. It strikes me, though, that this Google Trends data is an interesting means of tracking the level to which this permeates the masses. Now granted, the Cohen argument is that the system is set up in a way to allow for party autonomy over the nomination decision, but this data seems like an alternate means of investigating this as opposed to focusing on polling (which may have some endogeneity issues with internet searches) or waiting for vote outcomes in the primaries.
This week, then, we'll be focused on this relationship (among other things). Ideally I'd be able to roll this out in one big post, but I don't have the time tonight (and I suppose I've been sitting on this for a couple of days already anyway) to put it all together. We all may be better served having it broken down into its component parts. Regardless, this should be fun to look at.
The 2012 Presidential Primary Calendar (4/4/09)
Georgia in 2012: Back to March?
Championship Set in NPR's 2012 Bracket