If search traffic were votes, Sarah Palin would be the runaway Republican presidential nominee. Palin, as Nate Silver reports, is the subject of far more Google searches than any other likely republican candidate. As Silver says, Palin’s search traffic is roughly 14 times larger than Newt Gingrich’s, 16 times larger than Mitt Romney’s, and 38 times larger than Mike Huckabee’s. In fact, Palin’s daughter Bristol—recently a finalist on Dancing With the Stars—gets more search traffic than the other Republican hopefuls. There are even more recent searches for Palin in the U.S. than searches for Obama.
That’s something the former governor will consider as she contemplates a run for the presidency. As Silver says, search traffic may be a reasonably good indicator of how interested people are in a candidate. All that search traffic partly reflects how often Palin is in the news—by Google News’ count, more than twice as often since the start of the year as Gingrich, Romney, and Huckabee combined. With so much interest in and media attention directed toward Palin, it will be hard to for other candidates to get much time in the press. Silver puts it well when he says that makes it difficult for other Republican candidates, because “if and when Ms. Palin declares her candidacy for the White House it could consume much of the media oxygen literally for months.”
But publicity and name recognition aren’t everything. If they were, then we could probably expect Kanye West or Taylor Swift to be the next president (that would be an entertaining race to cover, by the way). Palin is certainly popular with Republicans and if the economy continues to falter would have a chance to beat Obama. But if the economy continues to falter any Republican will have a chance to beat Obama. The fact is that people search on Sarah Palin as much because of the fascinating reality show of her life—never mind that she literally has her own reality show—as because they are enthusiastic about the possibility that she could be president.
The truth is that Palin is unpopular with the moderates and independents she would need to win a national election. As Greg Sargent points out, the internals from a recent ABC/Washington Post poll reveal that only about a third of moderates and independents think she’s even qualified to be president and just 38% of moderates view her favorably. That’s why even at a the current low point in Obama’s popularity—and with unemployment near 10%—Palin still trails Obama by 8 points in a recent Quinnipiac survey, while Romney and Huckabee are running even with the the president. Still, as Silver says, Palin “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.”