If there were any doubt about Donald Trump’s rising popularity in Florida, crunching numbers of Internet searches statewide during last night’s presidential debate might just put those doubts to rest.
Tallahassee-based Strategic Digital Services (SDS) released figures Wednesday morning examining Google Trends in the top Florida media markets during the final Republican Party debate for 2015. Search engine volume is one factor in gauging a candidate’s relative strength in a particular region.
SDS looked at numbers for Trump, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz as well as retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson.
Preliminary numbers suggest that among Florida voters, Trump, the real estate billionaire and current Republican front-runner, is moving from what many saw as a “fringe” candidacy squarely into the mainstream.
“The Google search data from last night’s debate solidifies that Donald Trump is absolutely no longer the sideshow candidate,” said SDS co-founder Joe Clements. “It also shows that Floridians are doing their homework. Though with top related searches ranging from questions about spouses to their height, what interests users is far different from what a candidate wants you to be interested in.”
Curiosity over Trump took the search engine lead in six of the 10 top Florida media markets (as of early Wednesday morning) – West Palm Beach, Fort Myers, Tampa, Orlando, Jacksonville and Panama City. Cruz was the leader in two – Miami and Gainesville (where he tied with Bush). Marco Rubio was the most searched name in West Palm Beach (where he also tied with Trump). Carson was tops in Tallahassee and Pensacola.
“What we see in the data is people engaged in this election are taking the initiative to educate themselves instead of allowing others to dictate their support,” said Matt Farrar, co-founder of SDS. “The search data also illustrates the importance of candidates owning the content in those top Google searches. Controlling the digital narrative is a powerful accelerator.”
SDS also looked at specific numbers, which help to provide insight on how the Republican presidential race in shaping up in Florida.
One takeaway was that Trump dominated search engine activity early on in the debate, which started at 8:25 p.m., and remained on top throughout the evening. Being the most searched Republican candidate in the Sunshine State, Trump had more than seven times the volume of Cruz, the next most searched candidate.
Google searches during the debate corresponded in two important ways: on-screen time of a particular candidate, and how often an opponent was named, creating what SDS calls a “feedback cycle.” For example, when Trump answered a question and mentioned Cruz, Google searches for both spiked.
In addition, SDS found people in Florida were evaluating candidates based on personality and how comfortable they are with them, not necessarily on individual policy positions. Top search terms tended to be more about the candidate – his or her net worth, spouses and height – as opposed to just the candidate’s name.
SDS, a Republican-led technology firm providing digital insight for campaigns and causes, will also be researching similar data for Democrats during the next debate, set for Saturday, Dec. 19.