Forget the Polls. Google Tells Us Who Really Won the GOP Debate.

A spin through the world’s biggest search engine shows what people think about the Republican candidates.

RJ Sangosti/Denver Post/Zuma

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

A few dominant narratives emerged from Wednesday night’s Republican presidential debate in Boulder, Colorado. One: The GOP and its supporters hate the media. Two: Donald Trump polls well with the GOP base, regardless of his debate performance. And three: Jeb Bush’s campaign might be toast.

But there’s also something to be learned from Google, the company that seems to know what we’re thinking before we even think it. The folks at Google Trends compiled a mound of data during the debate, looking at real-time searches of the candidates, what people are trying to learn about each of them, and the sheer dominance of Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina during the night’s undercard debate that preceded the main event.

One Google interactive looked at which candidate people searched for after searching for another candidate. In other words, after people looked up Trump, whom did they search for next? The answer: Ben Carson. Click on a candidate below to see the related candidates.

Taking a step backward, let’s look at the top GOP candidates from Google searches before the debate.

Clearly, Trump was winning that race. But it shifted after the debate, with Carson and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida gaining some ground.

That seems to coincide with one of the story lines from the debate: Rubio handled questions about his voting absences and finances fairly well, and he may have supplanted Bush as the go-to establishment candidate in the race.

Here’s how those searches played out in real time.

You can see Trump and Carson starting strong, with Rubio in third place. But as the debate progressed, Rubio held on, never falling below the fourth position. By the end, he was in second place behind Trump. But the biggest questions people had about Rubio weren’t exactly the deepest ones.

To be fair, questions about the other questions are on the same level.

The questions might seem silly, but they can be revealing. Trump’s wealth and business acumen have been key selling points during the campaign, so it’s only natural that people would ask Google about his money. Conversely, with someone like Graham, people are wondering what he’s even doing in the race:

But it’s not all bad for Graham, according to the Google Trends data. Take a look at real-time searches during the undercard debate on Wednesday night:

If this is any indication, Graham is doing a good job in at least one area: getting attention.


Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend