“Affair,” “gay,” “wives,” and “Paul Revere” are among the most commonly-searched terms associated with announced and rumored 2012 Republican presidential candidates

newtgingrich10.jpgWhat types of information are people seeking about the 2012 presidential field when they seek out candidates on the Internet?

Or, rather, what information are people being steered to discover about these candidates when conducting a search through Google?

A Smart Politics study of Google’s autocomplete (or autofill) algorithm on this cycle’s crop of presidential candidates finds that the most popular results are a mix of terms that focus on the candidate’s general campaign itself, the policy positions held by the candidates, controversial quotes attributed to the candidates, and personal (or rumored) information about the candidates and their families.

Smart Politics previously examined the Google autocomplete feature last March for the nation’s 50 governors, and found the top autofill suggestions for these state executives included terms related to inaugurations, state of the state addresses, and various policy issues, along with a handful of eye-opening results such as “Nazi,” “racist,” and “death panels.”

To refresh, the autocomplete feature offers top search results that might be similar to the one in which a user is interested, and works as follows, according to Google:

“As you type, Google’s algorithm predicts and displays search queries based on other users’ search activities. These searches are algorithmically determined based on a number of purely objective factors (including popularity of search terms) without human intervention. All of the predicted queries shown have been typed previously by Google users. The autocomplete dataset is updated frequently to offer fresh and rising search queries. In addition, if you’re signed in to your Google Account and have Web History enabled, you may see search queries from relevant searches that you’ve done in the past.”

For the announced presidential field, the most common first autocomplete result was, not surprisingly,”2012.”

As of Sunday evening, “2012” was the top suggestion for former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, and U.S. House member Ron Paul.

It was also the top suggestion for former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani – who ran for the office in 2008 and is contemplating a bid again this cycle.

“2012” was the second Google autocomplete suggestion for former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman and the third for former Louisiana Governor Buddy Roemer and Michigan Congressman Thad McCotter.

In a similar vein, Roemer and businessman Herman Cain retrieved the phrase “for president” suggestion after their names were entered into Google.

Rick Perry “for president” was also the top autosuggestion for the Texas Governor who many believe will jump into the race in August.

Only two announced or rumored candidates did not have “2012” or “for president” appear after their names in the Top 4 Google autosuggestion results: former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum and former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.

Santorum’s top phrase was “wiki” – which, if selected by the user, retrieved his Wikipedia page as the first retrieved result.

Palin’s first suggestion was “Paul Revere” – in reference to a famous quote made by the former GOP 2008 Vice Presidential nominee when she landed in New Hampshire earlier this summer on her “One Nation” bus tour.

The Paul Revere incident is a reminder of how statements by public figures can go viral, particularly when they are seen as significant gaffes or are otherwise viewed as controversial.

For example, Michele Bachmann’s leading autocomplete suggestion was not directly related to her campaign, but was instead “quotes” – a shortcut query for the many provocative statements delivered by the Minnesota Congresswoman over the last few years.

The term “quotes” also appeared as a Top 4 suggestion in Google searches for Ron Paul (#3), Palin (#3), Giuliani (#2), and potential candidate former New York Governor George Pataki (#3).

In another specific example of how a particular quote dominates Google searches, “secession” was the fourth autocomplete result for Rick Perry – who made waves early in the Obama administration in which secession was merely implied but never specifically mentioned in a 2009 statement:

“We’ve got a great union. There’s absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that. But Texas is a very unique place, and we’re a pretty independent lot to boot.”

In addition to quotes, other elevated Google autocomplete results for the 2012 GOP field revolved around the candidates’ families and various facts (and rumors) regarding their personal lives. For example:

· For Michele Bachmann, “husband” and “foster children” are the third and fourth results yielded by the Google autocomplete algorithm.

· Typing in Newt Gingrich’s name yields “affair” and “wives” for his second and third results.

· “Sr” is the top result for Jon Huntsman, who shares the same first name with his father, Jon Hunstman, Sr, from whose business the younger Huntsman acquired a good portion of his personal wealth.

· “Mormon” is the third result for Huntsman, although it is not found in the Top 4 results for Mitt Romney who shares the same faith. A recent poll found only 40 percent of Americans know Romney is a Mormon.

Among potential GOP candidates, “crossdresser” is the third result for Rudy Giuliani and “gay” is the second result for Rick Perry.

Giuliani appeared in drag for theatrical and other public events on a few occasions while Mayor of New York City, as well as during an episode of Saturday Night Live.

The elevated “gay” autocomoplete suggestion for Perry stems not simply from his recent comments over the federal governmental role in the gay marriage debate, but also (unsubstantiated) rumors about the governor’s sexuality that have surfaced over the years.

During his GOP primary reelection battle against Kay Bailey Hutchinson in 2010, the gubernatorial campaign website for the U.S. Senator included “Rick Perry gay” among a few thousand hidden words and phrases embedded in the site.

“Gay” is also listed as the second Google autocomplete result for Rick Santorum, although this is borne not out of any rumors about the conservative firebrand, but as a result of his past controversial statements on homosexuality and gay sex, such as comparing it to bestiality and pedophilia.

Santorum, who supports a federal constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman, has been targeted by gay activists over the years for his statements and policy positions.

One such leading advocate, columnist Dan Savage, has seemingly made it a personal mission to continue to link Santorum to various sex acts through Internet searches.

But all of this isn’t to say that Internet users are not also interested in the substantive policy positions held by these announced and would-be presidential candidates.

“On the issues,” for example, was a Top 4 result for Pawlenty (#2), Roemer (#2), Romney (#3), Johnson (#3), Cain (#4), McCotter (#4), and potential candidates Pataki (#1) and Giuliani (#4).

Specific policy issues also appeared among the Top 4 results for three announced and potential candidates: Cain (“federal reserve”), Johnson (“abortion”), and Pataki (“debt”).

As for the man who is waiting for his eventual 2012 opponent to emerge from the GOP field, President Barack Obama’s top autocomplete result on Google is still, you guessed it, “birth certificate” – even though that controversy seemingly died down three months ago after Donald Trump abandoned it as an issue when Obama presented his official certificate after more than two years of speculation and doubts about the true location of his birth by a large percentage of Republicans nationwide.

Obama’s other top results are “biography,” “wiki,” and “twitter.”

Top Google Autocomplete Search Term Results for Announced and Potential 2012 Republican Presidential Candidates

Michele Bachmann
for president
foster children
Herman Cain
for president
federal reserve
on the issues
Newt Gingrich
Rudy Giuliani
on the issues
Jon Huntsman
Gary Johnson
on the issues
Thad McCotter
for president
on the issues
Sarah Palin
Paul Revere
George Pataki
on the issues
for president
Ron Paul
for president
Tim Pawlenty
on the issues
Rick Perry
for president
for president 2012
Buddy Roemer
for president
on the issues
Mitt Romney
on the issues
Rick Santorum

Note: Candidate Google searches conducted July 31, 2011. Table compiled by Smart Politics.

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  1. Joe on August 1, 2011 at 10:48 am

    Sarah Palin, 4th result = ‘hot’, and ‘2012’ not found in her top 4, very interesting, and may not bode well for her potential candidacy, especially as top autocomplete result for her is Paul Revere.
    Very interesting and timely study, nice work.

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