Lane Filler is a member of the Newsday editorial board. He came to Long Island in 2010.
If you want to understand what the regular folks are pondering in this presidential election, you could read the endless scribblings of political junkies. You know, the ones that read, "In Wisconsin, in the rural areas of Trempealeau County, the key may be semi-conservative voters who are 'somewhat evangelical' and make between $43,000 and $52,000 per year."
Or, and this both works better and is more fun, you could type the candidates' names into Google, without pressing "enter," and see the top searches related to each. This won't work with personalized engines like Google Chrome, which knows me so well that if I merely type "e" it immediately suggests I search for "escape adult obligations by faking your own death," but if you use plain old Google, the results are quite enlightening.
Try "Romney" and you get "dog," "Etch A Sketch," "vs. Obama" and "sons."
"Dog" hearkens back to the time Romney drove for 12 hours with the family pet in a crate strapped to the car roof. Etch A Sketch is the toy Romney's adviser compared the campaign to, explaining how they would erase everything he has said in the primaries and start over in the general election. "Vs. Obama" suggests Republicans keep checking to see how Mitt is polling against the president before they hold their nose and vote for him. And "sons," based on the family fortune, suggests women checking to see which young Romneys are marriage-eligible.
Do "Santorum" and the top results are "definition," "Dan Savage" and "wife abortion."
"Definition" and Savage are related: Years ago, columnist Savage was so offended by Santorum's attacks on gays that he unleashed a devastating "Google bomb," effectively defining the word "Santorum" online, for all eternity, as the grossest substance ever described. "Wife abortion" applies to the fact that before they met, the ex-Pennsylvania senator's wife dated an abortion doctor 40 years her senior.
"Gingrich" pulls up "polls," "ethics violations" and "wife," which do pretty much define him. He's a slave to opinion polls, a master of ethics violations, and his tendency to leave ill wives for mistresses is his most interesting trait.
Type in "Paul" and the suggested searches are for "McCartney," "Rudd," (actor) "Smith" (a clothing line) and "Pierce" (basketball player). You must add "Ron" to come up with "polls," "wiki," "2012" and "racist." If folks are searching for info on septuagenarian musicians and clothing designers more than your candidate, that's bad. If the only specific search term related to your full name is "racist," because you lent your name to nasty propaganda years back, don't quit your day conspiracy.
Searches under "Obama"? "Approval rating," "sings Al Green," "birth certificate," and "Obamacare." Folks want to make sure he's an American, and make sure he can deliver a soulful rendition of "Let's Stay Together" on command.
What does this tell us about elections and voters? What we want to know about candidates is who they are as people. Searches for information on their tax policies, stances on Iran or level of belief in Keynesian economics are rare.
Voters are looking for a president we trust and relate to more than one we agree with on everything. That's why, so often, we vote for the candidate we'd be most comfortable going camping with. Ideas, particularly among politicians, change. So we try to divine character in the hope that it won't.
It also tells us that right now, Obama's crushing these guys.
If you're only understood in the simplest of terms, "fair to middling R&B singer" definitely trumps "guy who strapped dog to car," "frequently leaves ailing wives for mistresses," "synonymous with icky fluids" and "racist."
Lane Filler is a member of the Newsday editorial board.