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The Boston Globe

Politics

Evan Horowitz

The primaries are coming. Is anyone paying attention?

Democratic gubernatorial candidates faced off in a debate at Stonehill College.

Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Democratic gubernatorial candidates faced off in a debate at Stonehill College.

It’s election season in Massachusetts, a time of frantic campaign activity, slick advertising, and heated debates.

So far, that activity has had little impact on the polls, which haven’t seen any big swings or lead changes.

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Even beyond the staid polling, though, Google Trends search data suggest that there isn’t much interest in this election among the public. At least not yet.

Google Trends tracks the popularity of search terms over time and by region. For example, it shows that searches for the term “governor” in Massachusetts tend to spike around elections. At least, that was the story in 2006 and 2010. So far this year, Google hasn’t picked up any big increase in searches for “governor.”

One explanation is that this year’s spike just hasn’t happened yet. If you look closely, you’ll see that those past surges didn’t actually begin until September, the month of the primary. The level of interest this August is roughly comparable to August 2006 and 2010.

If you look for “democratic primary,” though, the picture is a bit bleaker. Set aside the big spike in 2008, which is actually for the Obama-Clinton presidential primary, and you can see that by August 2006, interest in the “Democratic primary” pitting Deval Patrick against Chris Gabrieli and Tom Reilly was already growing. There’s no sign of a similar upswing this year. In fact, current interest in the search term “Democratic primary” rates a zero.

The pattern for “Republican primary” is quite similar. During the last Republican gubernatorial primary, in 2010, search interest started to rise in August and peaked in September. We haven’t seen any big movement yet this year.

Admittedly, gauging voter interest by way of Google searches lacks the methodological rigor of a poll or a random sample. It’s also very sensitive to slight changes in wording, or choices about whether to search for generic terms like “governor” or individual candidates’ names (which aren’t useful for long-term comparisons).

For many, though, Google has become the primary portal to knowledge and information. And even though the state primaries are approaching quickly, fewer voters seem to be using that portal to glean information about the governor’s race or either primary.

If you think there’s another search term that might help shed light on this year’s election, head over to Google Trends and give it a shot. Then let me know what you find via e-mail.

Evan Horowitz digs through data to find information that illuminates the policy issues facing Massachusetts and the United States. He can be reached at evan.horowitz@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeHorowitz
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