| Recently over at FHQ, I had a look back through the lens of Google Trends at Democratic (here and here) and Republican (here, here and here) presidential candidate emergence in the lead up to 2008. But I thought I'd cast an eye toward 2012 as well. There is a cyclical pattern to this process. All is relatively quiet in terms of presidential candidate Google searches in years one and two of any four year presidential election cycle, but once the midterm congressional elections hit, the more candidate-specific searches begin to climb in number. That's exactly the pattern that was witnessed between 2005 and 2008.
In other words, the expectations for this current period in the presidential election cycle should be quite low. Hey, we just finished an election! Why think about the next one? Well, some of us are, much to the chagrin of others. The bottom line is that we have to take these trends with a grain of salt this far out. But just for the heck of it let's take FHQ's Elite Eight for 2012 and add Bobby Jindal and Ron Paul. Now, it could become necessary to add (or subtract) someone in later, but I'll leave it at these ten for the time being.
How, then, do things look for these ten prospective candidates in terms of Google search volume three years ahead of primary season 2012? I don't want to beat a dead horse here, so i'll limit the number of charts I throw at you. However, follow the link at the conclusion of this post for more if the snapshots I've included aren't enough to satisfy your appetite for this stuff. This series of posts (Yes, they'll go on on a monthly basis.) will be superior to the week-by-week structure of the 2008 posts simply because the information base (daily) is more robust. Yeah, yeah, but what do the trends look like?
There you have it. Wow, what's that spike or more appropriately, who is that spike? That's Bobby Jindal during the period before and following his response to Obama's address to the joint session of Congress. All you can really see from this chart is the Louisiana governor having a really good day, Sarah Palin with a comfortable advantage over everyone for all but about a week, Ron Paul claiming a steady middling position and then everyone else clustered together. What's that really telling us other than Bobby Jindal was the talk of the town for about a week? Not much.
So let's look at that January to March period without Jindal.
Ah, now there's a trend. It's still Sarah Palin, then Ron Paul and everyone else, but the trajectory that the Palin line is following is oddly similar to the cautionary tales the punditry was weaving in the days after last November's election. The onus was always on Palin to stay in the news and politically relevant from the far reaches of the Last Frontier. Relative to her other prospective competitors, the Alaska governor has basically come back down to earth. She's still in an advantageous position, but not like she was. If you draw a straight line from point A (1/1/09) to point B (3/31/09), Palin has lost what amounts to ten points in relative Google search volume compared to the other, in this case, eight candidates. Yes, there has been a rebound of sorts in April due to the Levi Johnston controversy and last week's right to life gathering in Indiana, but I'll will get to that once April is complete. [So, the end of the week or there about.]
Now, this is all something of a fool's errand in 2009. That I'll admit. However, there are two things to take home from this:
First, all that you see above is true to what we would otherwise expect for this period in a presidential election cycle. One election ended and most just have not started thinking about the next one. The argument, then, that most of the (subtle) fluctuations are based on media cues is a valid one. But...
This Palin trend is one worth tracking. Her potential candidacy is one that could spur a huge grassroots effort. It is also true that latent grassroots support turned active could make her decision as to whether to enter the presidential race in 2012 that much easier. Still, her success will be measured by the extent to which the Alaska governor is able to, as I've said already, stay in the news and remain politically relevant. No one excites the Republican base better than Palin at the moment, but that excitement has to be met with the construction of some national level policy bona fides without which she'll be hard-pressed to convince Republicans mindful of her chances in the general election that she can win. That, though, is a story for another day.
This is an edited version of a piece that is cross-posted at FHQ.