On January 28 2020, Twitter user Wes Holing (@wesholing) shared the following screenshot of a map graph, a purported “quick peek at which states are Googling Bernie Sanders the most over the last 30 days”:
Holing — an apparent avid Sanders supporter — didn’t specify where the map was purportedly obtained, but a reference to “the last 30 days” and elements of its interface suggested that he took the screenshot from Google Trends. In a response tweet, Holing said that Sanders was most popular in his legislative home state of Vermont:
We should note here that Google Trends searches are not scientific polls, and are raw data based only on a number of Google searches performed on any one candidate. It is entirely possible that the 60 percent of candidate Google searches for Bernie Sanders in Vermont displayed here were people with neutral or negative opinions of him. The same went for Joe Biden (showing around 14 percent of searches), Elizabeth Warren (at 15), and Pete Buttigieg (at 11).
As a metric of Google searches, however, the claim was accurate. Another Twitter user chimed in with a link to a populated Google Trends page for five candidates: Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, and Amy Klobuchar:
First on that page was a line graph, “interest over time” for the 30 days before the Google Trends search was conducted. We were unable to embed the static data, so we captured a screenshot of the top graph:
The second graph, candidate breakdown by subregion, also showed Sanders ahead in Google Searches. States were paginated in units of five, with Vermont, Alaska, Maine, Washington, and Wyoming in the “most interested” slots
Following that were graphs related to the individual candidates in the search’s parameters — Sanders, Warren, Biden, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar — and a third person responded with a purported screenshot of page two of Biden’s results:
All candidates’ “Related queries” contained negative searches as “related”; Sanders’ searches involved Project Veritas videos smearing him, and Warren’s included the search “Elizabeth Warren liar.” That user reportedly observed the sixth-most-popular search for Biden was “please don’t make me vote for Joe Biden”:
However, when we toggled to the second page and sixth result, we saw “how old is joe biden and bernie sanders,” not “please don’t make me vote for Joe Biden.” One amusing visible first search result for Klobuchar was “amy klobuchar eyebrows,” a Google Trends quirk which did not go unexploited by sites trying to catapult into the top of search results.
As the unusual syntax here illustrates, sites plopped a grammatically questionable “amy klobuchar eyebrows” into their headline without possessives to gain favor with Google’s algorithms:
Although Holing’s “quick peek at which states are Googling Bernie Sanders the most over the last 30 days” appeared on Twitter in screenshot form, the data matched what we found when we visited Google Trends’ multi-candidate search data a few days later on February 1 2020. Numbers had fluctuated a little — Sanders was up to 66 percent from 60 percent in Vermont-based searches — but the claim was real. Another point of important note is that the data represented Google searches by volume, and was not the same as a scientific poll; to that point, the user never claimed the map was a poll, and his claim that it showed “which states are Googling Bernie Sanders” was true.