What a year. Can we exhale yet?
Even with the demise of Wall Street (and our 401ks), the thing people will remember most about this year was the American presidential election. They’ll remember that a self-described “skinny kid with a funny name,” with a white mom from Kansas and a black dad from Kenya, made history.
- Barack Obama
- Sarah Palin
- John McCain
- Hillary Clinton
- George Bush
- Ron Paul
- John Edwards
- Mike Huckabee
- Arnold Schwarzenegger
- Mitt Romney
Just like the election, Barack Obama captured the most attention. People searched for information on the president-elect this year more than they did for any other politician, and pushed him into the top 10 searches of 2008.
An Energized Electorate
Inundated with election news on the TV, in their mailboxes, and in their inboxes, people still searched the Web for information about the candidates and random figures wandering around the political landscape. Whether it was about a candidate, an issue, or the silliness surrounding the whole shebang, people wanted to know everything about the race, from the primaries to Election Day.
The searches started with some basic information on the candidates. Everyone needed details on the candidates’ backgrounds (“barack obama biography,” “mccain bio“) and their families (“cindy mccain,” “chelsea clinton,” “bristol palin“), especially with a few political newcomers in the running.
It was an election of many firsts, and not just because of Obama. 2008 had the first serious run by a woman. Even though Hillary Clinton didn’t get the Democratic nomination, the GOP would eventually pay homage to her and her 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling with a first for its party: Alaska governor Sarah Palin for veep.
Thanks to the undying support from the Internet “revolution” that buoyed his candidacy, congressman Ron Paul got some searches too, showing America a Texas-flavored, shoot-from-the lip bluntness that hadn’t been seen since the days of Ross Perot.
Tales emerged from the race that had little to do with political qualifiations, like former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee (who snagged the Iowa primary) being a squirrel-eating bass player. Mitt Romney didn’t just have to deal with questions about his Mormon faith: The former Massachusetts governor had to answer allegations about strapping his dog to the roof of a car on a family trip.
Sundry silly searches started during the primaries and didn’t let up. Some people wanted to ogle the candidates’ doppelgangers (“tina fey hot“) and their fans (“obama girl,” “celebrities for mccain“). Fashionistas wanted to know about clothes on the campaign trail (“michelle obama view dress,” “j-crew“). And Joe the Everyman wanted to know about the candidates’ sidekicks (“joe the plumber“).
By September, Obama and McCain had selected their running mates. Riding on the excitement engendered by his VP pick, the “maverick” John McCain jumped on the second coming of the Straight Talk Express but drove past David Letterman. The late-night host’s angry response provoked fast and furious searches (“john mccain letterman“). When McCain called Obama “that one” during a debate, searches spiked for that too.
By the time October rolled in, the election had made inside-the-beltway Web staples like “politico” and “fivethirtyeight” into household names. Suddenly, everyone could be an armchair pundit, pulling up an “election map” in one hand and the poll numbers from “real clear politics” and “gallup poll” in the other.
Since the campaign’s start, citizens had been researching email rumors (“barack obama muslim,” “obama birth certificate“) and exercising their right to vote (“register to vote“). As Election Day approached, searches got serious. And, in what has to be considered a triumph for the Founding Fathers, the electorate ended its Search campaign by digging into the issues (“factcheck.org,” “snopes“) and brushing up on political systems (“socialism“).
Politicians NOT in the Final Run
With the presidential election sucking the oxygen out of the room, it might’ve been easy to forget George W. Bush. The lame-duck president managed to get some Search time even when sinking approval ratings dictated he lay low for a while. His daughter’s nuptials (“jenna bush wedding“) proved one bright spot, while searchers embraced the popular online video game created in his honor (“hot dog bush“).
Scandal plagues nearly every political race, but nothing was more heartbreaking than John Edwards‘ post-presidential-run revelation that he cheated on his cancer-stricken wife. (By the way, former New York governor Eliot Spitzer nearly made the top 10 for his own extramarital romps with a high-priced call girl—which led to searchers racking up online time with “ashley alexander dupree” and “emperor’s club vip.”)
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger caught some attention, maybe by tending to California’s stalemate state budget instead of speaking at the GOP convention. Searches for the Terminator beat Democratic vice-presidential pick Joe Biden, gaffes and all.
The Web of Politics
Through dozens of debates, a few scandals, and a bushel of blunders, the most attention in Yahoo! Search went to the guy from Hawaii who found his footing in the South Side of Chicago—the community organizer who organized the electorate into finding its will to care again.
Whether they were for Obama or against him, whether online or in person, people were fired up to vote this year. In the end, all that interest and energy culminated in some memorable election night pictures (“obama flickr,” “grant park“). Honestly, did you ever think you’d see a picture like this that didn’t involve concert tickets and a boy band?