Obama@Google, courtesy of viewimages.com
The Iowa Caucus, which took place last Thursday, is the official start of the nominating process of candidates who wish to run as their party representative in the forthcoming presidential elections later this year. With very little in terms of tacit political points at stake (i.e. delegates), Iowa is generally regraded as more of a media event than anything ultimately substantial.
Media exposure is of course key to any campaign, which is affirmed by the millions spent by major candidates on a package of promotional ventures including a relentless stream of television advertisements. A win in Iowa potentially entails a whole barrage of free press across the spectrum of the national media. Therein, success in Iowa is said to generate a tremendous amount of momentum for a candidate’s campaign.
The question then lies as to how much momentum did a given candidate’s campaign generate? The victor on the Democratic side at the Iowa Caucus, Barack Obama, is nationally still polling about 20% behind the Democratic front runner Hillary Clinton. This suggests that Obama needs a lot of momentum in order to overhaul such an apparent deficit, if he is to eventually become his party’s nominee.
Early polling of the fast approaching the New Hampshire Primary, the next nominating event, was inconclusive as to the extent of the Obama ‘bump’. This is inevitable given that the polling was commenced prior to the Iowa Caucus, hence unable to elicit the Caucus’s full ramifications.
Although recent polls do indicate a significant gain for Obama in New Hampshire, a more immediate (and perhaps more incisive) representation of the Obama ‘bump’ is obtained by gauging the extent of Obama related activity online.
The Internet is fast becoming the primary media source for information and as discussed in my previous post, candidates invest a great deal in order to perpetuate their online presence. A measure of overall online activity on any given topic is likely to be directly proportional to the amount of search engine activity on that topic.
Google, America’s leading search engine, makes tallies of search queries on a given keyword, publicly accessible on their Google Trends web service. The graph above presents how the total number of searches made on the Google search engine for Obama and Clinton varied over the last four weeks. As the big blue spike in the graph suggests, the numbers are quite telling.
The spikes (Hillary’s too) represent the immediate aftermath of the Iowa Caucus. Even a fleeting observation would indicate that Obama got a media bump of about four times that of Hillary Clinton (with respect to the general level of searches made prior to the Caucus).
Given the nature of digital information, this data was accessible and being aggregated as it was being generated. The immediacy and succinctness of analysing online user activity has some obvious advantages over the traditional phone based polling methods. As the prominence of the Internet grows, we’re likely to see more analysis of online network effects to support market research.
As for Obama, it will be interesting to observe how his numbers on Google Trends vary in response to the ongoing series of nomination events, and whether he can overhaul Clinton’s huge national lead in the polls.
In the future, we’re likely to look first to Google to find out who will become a party nominee, just like we look to Google for answers to everything else.