Saturday, November 20, 2010

Nate Silver: The 800-Pound Grizzly on the Web

Political number cruncher Nate Silver theorizes that Google search traffic "may be a reasonably good proxy for how much interest the candidate generates among the public at large." So he ran Tim Pawlenty's numbers and remarked that the Minnesota governor’s traffic "somewhat lags behind that of several other potential Republican contenders." But those differences pale into insignificance, Silver observes, compared with the gap between Sarah Palin and every other Republican candidate:
Ms. Palin’s search traffic, since the start of 2010, is roughly 16 times that of Mitt Romney, 14 times that of Newt Gingrich, 38 times that of Mike Huckabee, and 87 times that of Mr. Pawlenty. (It is about six times greater than these other four candidates combined.)

Ms. Palin, in fact, draws almost as much search traffic worldwide as the man she would face if she wins the Republican nomination: Barack Obama. And her name is searched for about 30 percent more often than the President’s among Google users in the United States.


Mentions of the candidates in media outlets tracked by Google News have been nearly as asymmetrical. Sarah Palin’s name has been mentioned in about 20,300 articles since the start of the year, according to Google News, versus 3,640 for Mr. Romney, 3,280 for Mr. Gingrich, 2,980 for Mr. Pawlenty, and 1,870 for Mr. Huckabee. The ratio of candidate mentions in The Times since the beginning of 2010 has largely followed the same pattern: Ms. Palin’s name has been mentioned in 870 stories, against 540 for the other four candidates combined.
This poses a problem, says Silver, for the rest of those in the GOP pack who imagine themselves behind the big desk of the former president of their choice in the Oval Office. His reasoning is that "if and when Ms. Palin declares her candidacy for the White House, it could consume much of the media oxygen literally for months." The numbers man concludes:
Ms. Palin may not be the front-runner in a traditional sense (although it’s not clear that any of the other candidates are either). But she literally commands as much of the public’s attention as the President of the United States, and the strategy for the other candidates will have to revolve around her to some significant degree. In fact, since it is uncertain whether she will run or not, they will effectively have to develop two separate sets of strategies, one contingent upon the assumption that she will enter the race and the other on the bet that she won’t.

- JP

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