Trump's worst nightmare edges closer to statistical reality

Search data shows interest in Trump is waning — will the attention-starved president turn into stone?

By Charlie May
Published January 17, 2018 4:03PM (EST)
 (AP/Evan Vucci)
(AP/Evan Vucci)

The gravest threat to a ratings-thirsty creature such as President Donald Trump is the nightmare scenario of not being on everyone's mind all the time. While the president remains the hottest topic in so many newsfeeds and the specter looming over so many, recent data shows that the hype around him has begun to die down over the past year.

A new report focused on "big data" from the Brookings Institute claims to measure the Trump presidency in ways more indicative of real-time public opinions than "polls, election results, and legislation." As report explains, "Big data can measure trends over time. Their longitudinal component sheds light on what is happening to contemporary figures and how that shifts at various points." Instead, analysts used Google search trends to "provide a valuable perspective on political developments." The report broke down a number of interesting points throughout Trump's first year in office.

Brookings elaborated:

To summarize, there were a number of important trends in internet searches relevant to President Trump in 2017. Data show interest in Trump plummeting over the course of the year; variations in interest in economic, domestic, and foreign policy, depending on the time of year; spikes in interest in Russia, terrorism, taxes, and inequality as those topics were in the news; significant differences across states and cities as various topics surfaced nationally; and interest in impeachment surging during May and November.

Around Trump's inauguration, search trends for the incoming president were indeed through the roof. Throughout the first 10 weeks of his presidency, however, search trends dropped "to 20 percent of the initial level," the report claims.

As the first year of his administration, the public became increasingly engaged in specific issues than the president himself. Interest in terms related to impeachment surged in May, when Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey, and once more in November when Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, his business associate Rick Gates and Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulous were indicted by federal prosecutors. Similarly, interest in health care spiked during the summer at the height of the congressional debate over the botched appeal of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare).

There are certain variables worth keeping in mind here — there are limits to using internet search trends. Searches "are highly aggregated and it is not possible to break down the overall numbers by age, gender, race, or other important demographic categories," Brookings explains. Searches also "measure interest in a topic, but not the direction of sentiment." That is to say, this study can detect a general rise or fall of interest in Trump, but not who is or is not paying attention to him and how they feel about the man or his presidency.

That said, the so-called big data does show that the public is overall increasingly less interested in Trump the man, and more interested in how he's affecting the country, and how quickly he'll depart the White House for good.

Charlie May

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