Views / Opinion

Susan Delacourt: If Google searches were votes, would Andrew Scheer become PM?

Tory leader and NDP’s Jagmeet Singh can take heart in the year's search trends: at least they’re garnering curiosity.

Federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer in his recent video.

Conservative Party of Canada

Federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer in his recent video.

The two most enigmatic people in Andrew Scheer’s new TV ad are the couple at the end of the 30-second spot, who breeze right past the Conservative leader without saying hello.

Now we know where that couple may have been headed — back home, to their laptops, to do a Google search; something along the lines of “who is Andrew Scheer?”

According to figures released by Google Trends this week, Scheer was the Canadian politician who prompted the biggest surge in online-search curiosity in this country in 2017. Jagmeet Singh, the new leader of the New Democratic Party, also made the top 10 list of Google searches in the past year.

It seems that being new or American was the way to get on the Canadian political figures list. U.S. President Donald Trump was at the number one spot, but Canadians were also curious about Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Senator John McCain and failed Alabama senatorial candidate Roy Moore. The new French president, Emmanuel Macron, was at number five on Google’s most-searched list.

Canadians also showed considerable interest in women on the way up or on the way out of prominence: new Governor General Julie Payette was at the number seven spot, new Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante was at number nine and former B.C. premier Christy Clark was number 10.

Surprisingly, perhaps, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did not make the top-10 list at all. Then again, this list is a measure of curiosity and what’s unfamiliar to online searchers. After two years in office, Trudeau is a more of a known commodity. People obviously don’t feel the need to run to Google to learn more about him — he’s everywhere.

In fact, if that couple in the Scheer ad had run across Trudeau, they likely would have had him pose for a picture with them. Reportedly, the lineup for photos with the prime minister was massive at the annual Liberal Christmas party in Ottawa this week; still snaking around the room as some partygoers were heading home.

Traditionally, popularity like this can be perilous. Canadians have a habit of turning on political figures when they’re in their face all the time. Long ago, former prime minister Jean Chrétien even counselled Bill Clinton to adopt a lower profile as U.S. president — telling him that the best way to extend political popularity is to stay out of the headlines. There was a lot of truth in that advice.

Trudeau would not likely offer the same counsel, however. He didn’t make the top 10 list of Google searches in 2017, simply because the list was based on short-term spikes in interest. Overall, in the long haul of the past year, Trudeau still enjoys steady, enduring interest in the world of Google searches.

In fact, if you put the names of Trudeau, Scheer and Singh into the search box at the Google Trends site, Trudeau’s chart lines hover well above his counterparts in rival parties.

The prime minister’s big moment in 2017, according to that chart, came in February, coinciding with his trip to meet Trump. Related search terms with Trudeau in this context included “handshake” and “Ivanka Trump.” Clearly, Google searches are linked to vivid images — the two most memorable photo opportunities of that Trudeau trip happened when he shook Trump’s hand and when he sat next to the president’s daughter at a meeting with Canadian and American businesswomen.

Trudeau has a way of turning images into online popularity.

This also isn’t new. In fact, if you looked at the same Google Trends charts back in 2013, you got a sneak preview of how the 2015 election would unfold. Trudeau’s own people showed me the trends graph while he was still running for leader in early 2013, to explain why they were so sure he would end up as prime minister. If you had put the names of Trudeau, Stephen Harper and Thomas Mulcair into the search box, it showed massive Google-search curiosity for Trudeau — not so much for the other two guys.

So Scheer and Singh might take some heart from the Google Trends list released this week. They may not be household names in Canada yet and they certainly aren’t celebrities on the cocktail circuit — that same circuit the Conservative leader ridicules in his home-in-the-suburbs TV ad.

But the new party leaders did at least garner some curiosity this year — and gaining political fame is a long-term project, as Singh told reporters in Ottawa this week. “It’s not going to be something that’s going to happen overnight and that’s OK,” the new NDP leader said.

Who knows? Maybe next year, that couple in the Scheer ad will know him well enough to say hello.

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