Measuring Google search interest for 2020 candidates following Fox News appearances

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While the Democratic debates have no doubt helped some of the lesser known 2020 candidates gain broader name recognition, some have turned to Fox News to appeal directly to a wider spectrum of voters. It’s likely that, before next year’s election, more candidates will head to the network for their own “town hall” special.

But the Fox News strategy has split the field of candidates between those who’ve accepted the network’s invitation to appear on “town halls” and those, like Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, who’ve rejected it.

Though not for a typical “town hall,” New York City mayor and 2020 candidate Bill de Blasio is slated to appear on Fox News tomorrow evening for a sit-down interview with Sean Hannity.

Will de Blasio achieve the reach he’s hoping for? Have these town halls paid off for the candidates who’ve in the past taken Fox News up on their offer?

Looking at Google Trends search interest data before and after the television appearances of Pete Buttigieg, Kirsten Gillibrand, Amy Klobuchar and Bernie Sanders, we found that every candidate’s appearance resulted in a noticeable Google spike save for Pete Buttigieg. We found it worth including Pete Buttigieg’s Ellen appearance and Elizabeth Warren’s rejection, too, for context.

Note: Google Trends provides a proportional estimate of search volume and so this only really serves as a comparative analysis between the four candidates.

To be sure, these spikes in Google search interest could be caused by factors other than the Fox News town halls. But a look at top 25 related search terms for each candidate between April 4 and June 8 suggests a strong relationship between the candidate and the words “fox,” “news,” “town” and “hall,” with the exception of Amy Klobuchar.

Looking at Google interest by region

We were also curious to see where the top Google searches for candidates were coming from. As we’d expect, besides their home states, these four candidates are all eliciting searches from early primary states New Hampshire and Iowa.  

Interestingly, Gillibrand’s home state appears at the bottom of her top 10 states by Google search interest before, during and after her Fox News appearance. Is this positive, meaning she’s appealing to a broader array of Americans? Or does this mean she’s not gaining too much traction at home? We’re not sure.

Who added more followers on Twitter?

As a quick aside, we were curious if the Fox News town halls yielded in any substantial boosts in Twitter followers. The answer? Modest. Especially compared to the number of followers the candidates got after the first Democratic debate. That’s not a surprise, considering more than 15 million viewers tuned in the first night and 18.1 million watched the second.

Pulling in viewership data

Speaking of viewers, one other thing we were curious about was how the viewership numbers correlate with Google search interest during the Fox News town halls. Viewership overall was impressive for the town halls: Bernie pulled down the most viewers with 2.6 million while Amy Klobuchar drew 1.6 million, Pete Buttigieg 1.1 million and Kirsten Gillibrand 834,000, according to news sources citing Nielsen ratings. We’ll see how de Blasio fares.

Plotting viewership numbers against Google search interest reveals just how much Amy Klobuchar cuts away from the trend. Her Fox News town hall had many more viewers than one would expect.

This is an envious payoff. The chance to speak to an outsized audience as large as Klobuchar’s is exactly what the candidates angling for a future invite from Fox News are hoping for.

This analysis uses R’s “gtrendsR” package, a wrapper for the Google Trends website, as well as the “tidytext” and “ggwordcloud” packages. Full code here.

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