Thursday, October 16, 2008

Search findings from the third presidential debate

Last night, Republican candidate John McCain and Democratic candidate Barack Obama met at New York's Hofstra University for the last 2008 U.S. presidential debate. CBS News anchor Bob Schieffer moderated the format of two-minute candidate answers followed by five minutes of discussion. This format gave Senators Obama and McCain more time to debate each individual issue — and gave viewers more time to search Google for information than they did for either for their previous debate or the vice presidential debate.

Searches also clustered around [abortion], a question Schieffer posed earlier. In fact, of all the search queries emerging during the debate, Roe v. Wade was the most popular. Senator McCain's state-based approach to the issue sent many searching for more information on federalism, and subsequent discussions of partial-birth and late-term abortion prompted queries too. The conversations around nominations to the Supreme Court inspired many to search for litmus test and Justice Breyer.

While the volatile global economy and high energy prices may dominate news headlines, viewers sought more information about the topic of the evening's last question: education. People dug deeper into the issue of charter schools and school vouchers; some searched explicitly for school vouchers vs. charter schools. Senator McCain raised the example of Washington, D.C., schools, prompting many to explore the issue further, searching for Michelle Rhee, who is D.C.'s Chancellor of Public Schools. Other education-related searches included No Child Left Behind, Troops to Teachers, Head Start, and Teach for America.

A figure named "Joe" has been popular throughout the campaign: first there was Democratic VP candidate Joe Biden, and then we heard about Joe Sixpack from Republican VP candidate Sarah Palin. Now there's "Joe the plumber," who figured prominently throughout last night's debate. Viewers responded in kind, searching heavily for Joe the plumber. Some even found his real name: Joe Wurzelbacher. Other names that were dropped, discussed and then searched for large numbers: Bill Ayers and Congressman John Lewis.

And finally, here's a summary of sorts: these queries show the biggest overall spikes in search activity throughout the entire 90-minute debate.


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