Constitution Daily

Smart conversation from the National Constitution Center

Google Trends shows growing Romney interest among swing state voters

October 17, 2012 by Scott Bomboy


What does Google’s exhaustive Trends database show about swing state interest in the presidential campaign? For starters, Pennsylvania is now the closest state between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney among people searching for information about the two candidates.

Google Trends shows all kinds of search patterns for Internet users, dating back to 2004. You can look at the popularity of a search term, like "Barack Obama" or "Mitt Romney," down to a city level.

Link: Access Google Trends (account required for detailed data)

Google Trends search interest, October, in Pennsylvania

It collects quantitative data—real usage numbers—and compares one search with another for overall popularity. So a user can see if more people are searching for information about Obama or Romney since October 1, at a national, state or city level.

That’s what we did with a basic search comparing the two candidates in 11 swing states. The conclusion: While Obama is more popular as a search term in all 11 states, his lowest popularity advantage is in Pennsylvania.

Obama’s biggest search advantage is in Wisconsin, followed by Florida and Nevada.

Swing States, Google Trends Data
Oct. 1-14 Sept. and Oct.
Obama Romney Difference Obama Romney Difference
Colorado 31 28 +3 29 23 +6
Florida 35 30 +5 34 24 +10
Iowa 32 28 +4 30 22 +8
Michigan 32 29 +3 29 23 +6
Nevada 35 30 +5 32 24 +8
New Hampshire 29 27 +2 30 24 +6
North Carolina 32 28 +4 31 23 +8
Ohio 38 34 +4 32 25 +7
Pennsylvania 28 27 +1 26 21 +5
Virginia 31 29 +2 29 23 +6
Wisconsin 29 21 +8 24 16 +8

Google Trends gives each search a daily score, as a percentage of the most popular day in the past two weeks, which was the day after the first debate. (In the case, the word Romney has a score of 100 on October 3.)

Nationally, Google Trends has an average of 30 for Obama and 27 for Romney since October 1. In September, the scores were 27 for Obama and 21 for Romney.

The numbers show Ohio as the swing state with the most overall interest in searching for the words “Obama” and “Romney,” followed by Florida and Nevada.

Interest in both candidates was nearly equal in Pennsylvania and very close in Virginia.

There are two important caveats: a text search for Obama or Romney doesn’t indicate if a person likes or dislikes a candidate. And Google doesn’t supply demographic information.

So Google Trends is just a very broad indicator of how often people are searching for information about both candidates.

Still, there are some interesting trends as takeaways.

In Pennsylvania, the hot spots of search activity are the cities of State College and Erie, with much less interest in Philadelphia. In Wisconsin, the college city of Madison dominates searching in the state.

The words “debate” or “presidential debate” were usually in the top two of all Internet search terms within in each state. (The Amanda Todd bullying case was the top national search.)

Swing States, Top Google Trends Search Terms, October 1-14
1st 2nd
Colorado Jessica Ridgeway Debate
Florida Amanda Todd Debate
Iowa Amanda Todd Presidential debate
Michigan Amanda Todd Presidential debate
Nevada Amanda Todd Presidential debate
New Hampshire Presidential debate Debate
North Carolina Amanda Todd Presidential debate
Ohio Amanda Todd Presidential debate
Pennsylvania Amanda Todd Presidential debate
Virginia Amanda Todd Presidential debate
Wisconsin Amanda Todd Presidential debate

Another factor that both campaigns can learn from the Google Trends data is that typical Google users are younger votes, most often men, with higher education and income levels.

A 2011 Gallup study showed that about 60 percent of Americans use Google weekly, with people between 18 and 29 (about 83 percent) and between 30 and 49 (about 69 percent) the biggest users. And about 85 percent of higher-income users will use Google weekly. Google users were 63 percent men.

These demographics mirror those sought by local and national television broadcasters, who are seeking to reap the benefits of record political ad spending this fall.

And again, Pennsylvania would be appear to be significant, since there seems to be growing interest in Romney among younger, male, affluent voters.

But the Romney campaign and its surrogates have yet to spend the amount of money on ads in Pennsylvania as other swing states have seen.

Romney’s communications director in Pennsylvania was temporarily sent to Virginia, in another sign the GOP contender isn’t ready to take on an active campaign in the state.

Recent Constitution Daily Stories

Supreme Court justice’s car ticketed by Philly’s Parking Authority Top 10 Halloween ideas for Founding Fathers and presidents Obama regains footing but Libya looms over final debate Presidential, Senate races could be decided in Vegas

Sign up for our email newsletter