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Googling 'Mitt Romney' or @MittRomney Twitter mentions: which is the better barometer?

Published: Friday, March 9 2012 2:24 p.m. MST

Two new posts on the Google Politics blog reveal the potential and limitations of using data from Google search trends to forecast the outcome of political races, while the Washing Post's metric for measuring the Twitter mentions of GOP presidential candidates produces strikingly similar results to the latest polling trends.

In "Tennessee: Primary results and Google search trends," Google Politics highlights the astounding similarities between the final results of the Tennessee primary on Super Tuesday and Tennessee's "Google search traffic during the week leading up to the primary." Here's the data:

Final voting results for GOP primary (Tennessee)

Rick Santorum: 37 percent

Mitt Romney: 28 percent

Newt Gingrich: 24 percent

Ron Paul: 9 percent

Candidate search percentages (Tennessee)

Santorum: 40 percent

Romney: 26 percent

Gingrich: 23 percent

Paul: 11 percent

However, the subsequent post "Super Tuesday: Who Won Delegates, Search, and the Day?" illustrates the fact that Google search trends aren't always dependable indicators of how voters will behave — at least not yet.

"Mitt Romney may have taken the most delegates, but according to Google, Rick Santorum was the most-searched candidate," Buzzfeed's Zeke Miller wrote in summarizing the Google data. "Romney regains national search lead among GOP, but Obama still way ahead."

Another unique analytical tool that seems capable of mimicking voter trends is the Washington Post's @mentionmachine, which measures how many times the presidential candidates have been mentioned on Twitter during the past seven days. The current figures for Republican presidential candidates are listed below.

Twitter mentions in past week (as of March 8)

Romney: 179,123

Santorum: 119,023

Paul: 106,334

Gingrich: 69,213

(For comparison's sake, President Obama has been mentioned on Twitter 181,781 times in the past week.)

Converting the raw Twitter numbers into percentages of "Twitter mentions of GOP candidates during past week" provides entrÉe to an apples-to-apples comparison pitting those figures against the latest national polling.

Twitter mentions of GOP candidates during past week

Romney: 38 percent

Santorum: 25 percent

Paul: 22 percent

Gingrich: 15 percent

Gallup national polling of registered Republicans (as of March 7)

Romney: 37 percent

Santorum: 23 percent

Gingrich: 12 percent

Paul: 11 percent

Other: 2 percent

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