Tuesday, April 21, 2009

2012 GOP Presidential Candidate Emergence

Now that FHQ has 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 2008, I thought we'd cast an eye toward 2012. As was made clear in Sunday's post on frontloading bill trends since 2001, there is a cyclical pattern to this process as well. 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 (just as in the case of the number of bills to shift a state's presidential primary). 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 (FHQ has had an internal debate raging about whether to include John Thune, for instance.), 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? FHQ, always a bastion of information, has adopted a more is more (as opposed to the less is more) strategy in this instance at the risk of visual overload in this one post. I don't want to beat a dead horse here, but I think that it is important to look not only at the complete time series for the year thus far (January - March at least), but to glance at the monthly snapshots to get a clearer picture of the daily fluctuations. Yes, daily. That's where 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. I'll also augment the complete time series and monthly snapshots with Bobby Jindal omitted due to his Republican Response spike in late February when President Obama addressed a joint session of Congress. Jindal's data is supressed simply because it dwarfs (and even that may be understating the effect) the fluctuations for the other nine candidates. [And I'll bet you thought it'd be Sarah Palin hovering so far ahead of her other prospective Republican primary opponents.]

To the trends!

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There you have it. See, I told you that Jindal spike skews the data. All you can really see from that 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.

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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 punditocracy 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 FHQ will get to that once April is complete. [For the time being, I'll leave it at this: The former had more of an impact on Palin searches than the latter.]

Palin's one thing, but what about some of these other candidates? Let's zoom in on the first three months of 2009 individually.

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Mike Huckabee had some significant spikes across the month of January.

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But he comes back to the pack in February (see appendix for a February chart with Jindal included). In the first two months of the year, a subtle (very subtle) advantage can be detected for both Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich and there are some Mark Sanford (stimulus package-related) jumps as well.

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Once we zoom in on March and bring Jindal's data back into account, a Jindal/Gingrich/Romney grouping of candidates in the middle emerges with everyone else struggling to occasionally break from the no search barrier. That latter group includes Huckabee, Pawlenty, Crist, Huntsman and Sanford.

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.

Appendix: Bonus Charts
Below are a few more charts I put together but didn't fit in with the discussion above. But who am I to deprive FHQ's loyal readers of the visuals? There are three additional graphs. The first shows the February snapshot with the Jindal spike included and the final two show a January/February, two month snapshot -- one with the Jindal spike, one without.

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Recent Posts:
Trends in Frontloading: Bills Proposed and Passed Since 2001

The 2012 Presidential Primary Calendar (4/19/09)

Jones Reelected OK GOP Chair: 2012 Primary Seemingly Safe

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