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?

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