While sitting in the Indianapolis International Airport, I read an article from Washington Post’s Wonkblog that argued Indiana could be the least interesting state in the Union. As the Hoosier behind Indiana Explained, I have filed my official protest. Don’t worry, guys, I got this.
But when I dug deeper, what I learned shook up everything I thought I knew about Indiana, our state, and our politics.
To start, Christopher Ingraham’s premise that Indiana is uninteresting is based off of Google search results.
the state that appears to generate the lowest amount of search interest relative to its size is Indiana. The Hoosier State comes in at #16 in terms of population, but 10 rankings lower at #26 in search.
It’s a rather weak argument. Google Trends and Google Correlate have their limitations, as we explained in this post about Hamilton and the Grammys. You certainly can’t tell how interesting a state is based on those numbers. But when someone makes an assertion like this, it’s important to look deeper inside the numbers to see what we can learn.
When I clicked on the data linked in the Wonkblog, I saw this Google chart tracking the search trends:
The only thing you really need to pay attention to on this graph is the blue line, which represents searches for Indiana across the country. It’s a pretty normal search cylce. Want proof search history doesn’t indicate how interesting a state is? There was no spike during things like Super Bowl XLVI, in which Indiana was the most interesting place in America.
However, the chart above shows one massive exception: May 2008.
I saw this and immediately knew what it was: the 2008 presidential election, when Indiana was the most interesting place in the most interesting race in the world. As the Communications Director at the Indiana Republican Party during that time, I saw it firsthand. I took calls from all over the world about the Primary Election. I hosted a BBC reporter for a day, and turned down an interview with Al Jazeera, eight years before they were slandering Peyton Manning for roids.
It was a blast. Of course Indiana peaked during May of 2008!
There was one problem: the peak in the chart occurred not on May 6, the date of the Primary, but May 18.
I was baffled. I turned to Twitter and asked what happened on that day. My followers didn’t know. Google didn’t know. News archives from Indiana news sites came up empty. Nothing happened here on that day. So why did it peak? It was a mystery. Like Harrison Ford figuring out which cup was the Holy Grail in the Last Crusade.
Wait a second…[Googles Indiana Jones]
On May 18, 2008, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was released in theaters.
The one thing that made Indiana interesting wasn’t Indiana at all. It was a movie about magnetic skulls placed here in the past by…
Here’s the Google search history of Indiana (blue) compared with Indiana Jones (red):
More than half of the spike Indiana saw in Google search came as a result of the film. If you were to take out Indiana Jones, search for Indiana in May would have only been about 3 percentage points higher than the typical May.
Today, we’re standing on the precipice of another exciting, meaningful presidential primary in Indiana. And those of us who are love politics can’t wait until the world is as fascinated with Indiana as we are.
But what the data intimates is that if you gave 100 people a chance to watch Indiana election returns or a terrible new Indiana Jones sequel, only a handful would sit there refreshing the Secretary of State’s page.
The rest of America only cares marginally. So candidates, staffers, media, and elected officials would be well-served to remember this whenever we act like the future of the world as we know it hinges on whether the top tax marginal income tax rate is 39% or 35%.