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Sign of the times: Voters searching for memes, scandal in Trump v. Clinton

In an unconventional election we will likely tell future generations about as they listen with rapt attention and wide-eyed wonder, it’s perhaps not surprising voters are making unorthodox search queries.

In 2016, voters are searching far more for the candidates than the issues and they want to find memes and scandals.

In fact, searches have changed dramatically since the 2012 election – so much so that voters are searching far more often for the candidates than the issues and, what’s more, they want to find memes and scandals. Which seems about right, doesn’t it?

Trump meme

According to query data from marketing software company Moz, which principal search scientist Russell Jones said was verified against Google Trends wherever possible, meme searches like "Trump meme" or "Donald Trump memes" make up some of the most popular search terms related to Trump. And while there are searches for Clinton memes, they are much less frequent.

“I think this points to the seriousness with which some people are looking at Trump,” Jones added.

Clinton scandal

At the same time, nearly all of Clinton’s top search terms are related to the FBI and emails. In fact, of the top 25 terms tracked, Jones said 12 are related to the email scandal.

“Clinton's scandal searches have regularly outpaced Trump's, despite the fact that far more searches for Trump occur in general,” Jones added.

And this, Jones noted, is quite different from the 2012 election in which the ratio of scandal searches to generic candidate searches was about 1:60 for both candidates during the same time period. Clinton, on the other hand, has seen that ratio as low as 1:10 when the email scandal peaked, Jones said.

“Probably the biggest scandal of 2012 was the Romney 47 percent quote, but it doesn't register as even a blip compared to generic Romney searches,” Jones said. “There definitely seems to be more scandal-related searches, especially for [Clinton], in 2016 than in 2012.”

Issues have taken a backseat

Further, per Jones’ figures, in 2012, only 34 per cent of the search queries for candidates and issues went to candidates while the other 66 per cent went to issues, like the economy, national security and healthcare. In 2016, however, it has in essence flipped with 70 percent going to the candidates — and that, of course, mostly to Trump.

“In fact, if we remove health care altogether in 2012 assuming that perhaps there was exaggerated attention in that election due to the Affordable Care Act, but we still leave health care in for the 2016 numbers, the ratios are still more biased towards candidates in 2016 than in 2012,” he said. “There is definitely a strong case to be made here that issues have taken a backseat in this election.”

An inverse correlation between search interest and projected victory

And while he noted voters are always interested in the polls, it appears interest is spiking in this election in particular.

“We saw double the interest in polls during the primary than in the next highest previous election and more than 3 times the interest in August,” Jones said.

Trump searchers in particular are watching the polls more than Clinton searchers –- 2.6 times more to be exact — and are particularly interested in Trump's numbers. To wit: A person who searches for Trump is 4.6 times more likely to later make a search regarding Trump's polls, Jones said.

And that may not be a good sign for the Trump campaign.

Jones notes that Moz search data confirmed with Google Trends shows there is an inverse correlation between people searching for a candidate and his or her likelihood of winning. In other words, when more people are searching for Trump, he is doing worse in the polls and when more people search for Clinton, she is doing worse.

“I think this is a strong indication of the way negative news is driving this election, its coverage and the attention of voters,” Jones said. “When Trump's share of search drops, his likelihood of winning increases. In fact, according to FiveThirtyEight predictions, his best three days of predictions came after the single day that [Clinton] outperformed him in search. It is also almost uncanny to watch his chances of winning plummet after the DNC convention and, at the same time, his share of search skyrocket back up to previous levels.”

O Canada

But perhaps the clearest indication of the overall mood of voters this election is this: Interest in the search term “move to Canada,” which likely initially spiked because of Brexit, has continued to steadily grow since, indicating interest remains that is unrelated to Brexit, Jones said.

“We always hear the joke about, ‘I'll move to Canada if the other guy wins,’ but this year for once it seems like people are taking it seriously,” he added.

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