Google Trends: A Triumph in US Political Search Popularity

Virginia Governor Northam Under Heat as Polar Vortex Passes

During the last week of January 2019, the Midwest received a visit from Jack Frost as a chilling Polar Vortex swept through the region. In the same week, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam was thrown into the hot seat due to a racist 1984 medical school yearbook photograph he initially claimed to be in.

Polar Vortex and Ralph Northam Google Trends search data

According to an analysis of Google Trends search data, searches for Polar Vortex reached its peak on January 30th – the Wednesday temperatures plummeted to extreme lows. For instance, with a low of  -23º F  in Chicago, Illinois, venturing out into the cold with skin exposed bared a deadly risk of frostbite.

Additionally, national attention was drawn to the Polar Vortex due to a photo circulating on various social media platforms of a homeless man who supposedly died from the Chicago cold. The circulated photograph was real; however, it was revealed that the photo originated from a 2013 story of a cold swell in Toronto, Canada.

As January came to a close, Chicago’s temperature rose, lake Michigan thawed, and the heat was on Virginia Governor Ralph Northam.

Looking at the Google Trends search data, there is a noticeable faster spike and greater peak in searches for Northam compared to the gradual growth and smaller peak for searches of the Polar Vortex.

Likely, the sensitive nature of the photo, which depicted a man in blackface standing next to a figure in a Klansman outfit, and Northam’s status as a high ranking elected official influenced the greater peak. Also, the peak of Northam’s search popularity, February 2nd, coincided with the day he held a press conference to deny his presence in the photo.

State of Union Searches Peak over 21 Savage and Trump 

On Sunday, February 3, 2019, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested Grammy-nominated artist 21 Savage on claims that the rapper was illegally present in the US. Later that Tuesday, following a passive-aggressive letter exchange with House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, President Trump delivered the State of the Union Address.

21 Savage, State of Union, and Trump Google Trends search data

Despite the public presence of 21 Savage and Trump, it does not come as a surprise that searches for the State of the Union received a considerably higher peak than the other two search terms. The speech’s focus on US domestic affairs, as well as the polarizing context it was given in likely influenced searches.

Google Trends Subregion Breakdown

A search breakdown of the three terms by US subregion displayed that 21 Savage received the majority of searches in States near the rapper’s place of residence in Georgia. For example, in Georgia 21 Savage received 52% of searches, while the State of the Union had 19%, and Trump had 29%. Classified as a southern rapper, it is understandable why news of his arrest would spark many Google searches from individuals in the region.

The breakdown by subregion also visualized, that on average, searches for Trump in the sample period were higher than the other search terms. An interesting analysis could aim to determine the cause of this average. Could it have been the President’s polarizing nature, his constant media coverage, a combination of the latter two, or any other factors?


Practice Story

Pat Quinn Photo

Gov. Pat Quinn talks about MAP grants at DePaul University. (Photo by Josclynn Brandon)

Editor’s note: This story was originally posted on Dec. 12, 2012 and is housed at

By Bob Smith

Gov. Pat Quinn visited DePaul University’s Loop campus on Wednesday to discuss how pension reform is harming the Monetary Award Program (MAP) college scholarships and access to higher education in Illinois.

“This is so important to our state, not only in the past, but certainly now and in the future,” Quinn said.
“We want everyone to have the opportunity to go to college that has the ability to go to college.”

MAP grants are need-based college scholarships that allow merit students who are in need across the state and do not need to be repaid by the student. Quinn said that due to cutbacks and having to pay more money in the pension amount, almost 18,000 students lost their MAP grant scholarships this year.

“We do not want anyone denied that opportunity because of finances,” Quinn said. “We can’t afford to lose all the talent that exists, all the ability that exists for higher education to help our economy and to help all of us, because there are financial challenges that deny someone the opportunity to go to community college or a four-year university — public and private — in our state.”

Quinn was joined by several Illinois college students, including DePaul Student Government Association Vice President Casey Clemmons.

“Every year over 5,000 DePaul students receive MAP grants, and just like the students who have already spoken here today, all of these DePaul students rely on this funding in order to continue their college careers,” Clemmons said.

“Because the number of Illinois students eligible to receive MAP is currently increasing, existing funding does not allow the state to assist all the eligible students. As a result, without action by the Illinois state leadership, more DePaul students than ever will see their MAP funding disappear this year and more

DePaul students than ever will be forced to give up their education due to finances.”
More than 150,000 students nationally receive MAP grants each year.

Clemmons told the audience that on Tuesday, DePaul’s SGA unanimously passed a resolution calling on the Illinois general assembly and the governor to ensure the longevity of the MAP program. He read the resolution aloud and presented a copy to Quinn.

Ken Thomas, a University of Illinois Board of Trustees student member, MAP recipient and University of Illinois Chicago student, told how he wouldn’t be where he is today if it wasn’t for the MAP grant.

“My mom, when I was in high school, had to work two jobs just to keep food on the table,” Thomas said, “and if we didn’t have [the] MAP program like we do today, I know that I wouldn’t be where I am today; graduating with a degree, hoping to be a productive member of society.”

Having a productive and functioning society and economy is what Quinn says it’s all about.

“Jobs follow brainpower,” he said. “We want to make sure we have smart people in Illinois. Well skilled, well-educated students coming out of college with graduate degrees and diplomas so they can create jobs, create new businesses,” he said. “Our goal in Illinois is to have at least 60 percent of the adults in our state with a college degree or college associate degree or career certificate by the year 2025. In order to achieve we have to make sure we have a good scholarship program.”

Clemmons said that in order for that to happen, state legislatures need to reflect upon the question, “What must be done?” and do what’s required.