At the first Democratic primary debate, it was clear the main goal for several candidates was to merely get their name on the national radar.
The crowded stage of 10 made it especially difficult. But a few candidates found a way to stand out.
During the debate, several tweets noted the massive spike in Sen. Cory Booker’s search traffic. But by the end of the night, two other candidates emerged from the crowded field — enough to get Americans searching their name.
One was New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. This isn’t a huge surprise; de Blasio tried to run to the left of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who was clearly the frontrunner onstage. And he did so by trying to upend the debate format and interrupting fellow candidates.
The other, though, was more of a surprise. Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who served in the Iraq War, sparred with Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan over foreign policy — and eventually won the upper hand when she corrected Ryan for saying the Taliban, not al-Qaeda, was behind the 9/11 attacks.
These are the moments that caused search traffic for these candidates to skyrocket.
For most election watchers, the heightened interest in Gabbard was unexpected.
But that spike in interest might not be totally out of the blue.
Take a look at the number of views on each candidate’s Wikipedia page from the past week. Aside from Warren, Gabbard generated the most views.
Now, as I’ve learned from doing this kind of analysis on debates over the years, Google search spikes are hard to maintain. In many instances, people are seeing these candidates for the first time and are just curious about who they are on the most basic level. Once Google provides a one-sentence answer, that’s that.
But Wikipedia views tend to stay a little steadier. And we can see that for Gabbard when we look at the past month of page views on Wikipedia. Aside from massive spikes for the frontrunners, Gabbard is mostly keeping pace with them. If we compare her to another candidate polling in single digits, like Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, we can see Gabbard is more than doubling her totals.
Google Trends data can give us some hints as to why people are searching for Gabbard.
The past month of search data shows that, besides her home state of Hawaii, it’s folks from New Hampshire and Iowa — the early primary states — who want to know who she is.
None of this means that Gabbard is a serious contender. She clashed with fellow Democrats by being critical of President Obama’s foreign policy, saying that his administration “refuses to recognize” that “radical Islam” is responsible for terrorism. And ever since, she’s branded herself as being among the most hawkish Democrats when it comes to terrorism. She’s also been criticized for expressing support for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.
What we can take from this is that this heightened interest in Gabbard might not have come from nowhere.