Unless Barack Obama miserably fails at his presidency — or someone does something to him — we can expect the Democratic Party to shoo challengers off the field and give Americans the choice of Barack Obama or Barack Obama during the 2012 presidential primaries. The question for 2012 is who the Republicans will choose as their champion. The jockeying and showboating has already begun; what are Americans’ reactions?
Today I’d like to share two measures of attention given to Republican candidates. The first is a weak measure of interest: searches Google for the name of a presidential candidate on a certain day. Below is a graph showing Google searches for eight possible GOP presidential contenders. The metric Google uses isn’t the sheer number of searches for each candidate; it’s a standardized score to show relative differences:
Google searches indicate interest in information about a candidate that may vary in strength, including weak curiosity. To track a stronger, more committed level of excitement about the GOP presidential contenders, we can look at searches for political merchandise on the merchandise website CafePress to see how many promotional political items supporting the various contenders are being sold. When someone comes to CafePress, their searches express a commitment to some sentiment so strong that they’re willing to spend money so they can express their sentiment publicly.
The following is a graph of the frequency of CafePress marketplace searches for the names of various Republican presidential contenders from March 18 to April 1, 2009:
Sarah Palin is a consistent leader across the two kinds of searches, both searches for information and searches for political merchandise. Most of the other Republican presidential contenders searched for — Bobby Jindal, Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee — are clustered consistently in a secondary category. But for two other possible presidential contenders, results diverge across the two types of searches. Not many people search for stickers, buttons or t-shirts promoting Ron Paul, but a number of people do search for his name on Google. Conversely, people are searching for John McCain on Google only moderately these days, but there are a large number of searches for John McCain merchandise. Knowing what we know about these two politicians, the results make sense: there’s a small but dedicated contingent of people who follow Ron Paul’s speeches and actions in Congress online, but they figured out a year ago that he wouldn’t be a significant presidential contender. On the other hand, with his presidential campaign over John McCain has fallen down to the level of just one more national politician. His role as a past presidential nominee guarantees some level of interest in collectible campaign memorabilia.
If this interpretation is spot on, we should see interest in John McCain campaign gear decline over time. If both sorts of searches remain strong for Sarah Palin, that will be an indication of a bright future for her as a candidate — at least within the Republican Party.