Top Searches: #1 Elections

Vera H-C Chan
Senior Editor, Special Projects
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Hobbled by a struggling economy and acrimonious partisanship, America marked a turning point with the elections — although some may disagree over its direction. Election news had occupied headlines in 2011, as Republicans sought the nomination for presidency. The Supreme Court's 2010 ruling of Citizens United also set a contentious political stage, unleashing the super Pacs. In a way, politicians & Pacs injected their own economic stimulus with a collective outlay of $6 billion.

It's not clear how much Super Pacs and action funds "bought" races. The Sunlight Foundation's calculated returns on political investment ranged from a dismal 1.29% for American Crossroads (Karl Rove) to 98% for Planned Parenthood Action Fund. Citizens, however undecided, were clearly not passive: Searches on Yahoo! reveal people researching issues, reviewing platforms, comparing candidates, and relentlessly checking facts. In a time of sabermetrics and Freakonomics, pollsters themselves became the story, from Gallup (criticized for declaring a 7-point Mitt Romney lead 16 days before Election Day) to Nate Silver's statistical sweep. Yahoo! Signal too played the predictions game, projecting Feb. 16 that President Obama would win 303 electoral votes to the Republican nominee's 235. (Final tally: 332 for Obama, 206 for challenger Mitt Romney.)

On Nov. 6, voters made their own records: The "youth" vote (ages 18-29) turned out in the same numbers as in 2008, in higher proportion than seniors, and helped decide the election in swing states. The gender gap was the greatest in history. More Latinos than ever before registered. Across the nation, early voting surged. (REUTERS/Mike Segar)

2012 Elections

The United States is sometimes criticized for its citizens' apparent lack of interest in politics, at least beyond the celebrity angle. But "elections" was this year's most-searched term on Yahoo!, even though the long campaign probably made a lot of people weary toward the end.

In the dozen years Yahoo! has ranked its annual Top 10 searches, only two other news events captured the top spot: the BP oil spill in 2010, and Michael Jackson's death in 2009. This year the half-billion people who visit Yahoo! every month typed the word "elections" more than any other.

Hobbled by a struggling economy and acrimonious partisanship, elections became something of a turning point for the United States. However, political news often dominated headlines in the months before. For instance, the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United ruling made corporations legally similar to human beings in terms of campaign contribution limits, raising concerns that campaign spending would zoom out of control. And it did, as politicians, their supporting organizations and political action committees created something of their own economic stimulus, spending a collective $6 billion on campaigns.

It's not clear to what extent super PACs, which are the vehicles the well-heeled and corporate interests can use to fund advertising, were able to "buy" races. The Sunlight Foundation, which has a mission to promote transparency in government, calculated that returns on political investment ranged from a dismal 1.29 percent for American Crossroads, GOP operative Karl Rove's PAC, to 98 percent for Planned Parenthood Action Fund. However, searches on Yahoo! revealed a potentially more engaged electorate, as users browsed issues, reviewed platforms, compared candidates and relentlessly checked facts.