Capturing Curiosity: Using Internet Search Trends to Measure Public Attentiveness
Policy Studies Journal, Vol. 39, pp. 239-25
45 Pages Posted: 19 Jan 2010 Last revised: 27 Oct 2012
Date Written: July 5, 2010
While scholars have made great strides in formulating theories and measuring public attention, “Most Important Problem” and media-based indicators are less than ideal measures. In order to address this shortcoming, this paper borrows from healthcare epidemiology to measure public attention based on internet search trends. In doing so, it reviews the innovative ways in which scientists have used search activity to track the spread of infectious disease, discusses the ease and flexibility with which search data can be gathered, and then subjects a Google-based search measure to a series of validity tests. In particular, the analysis subjects the proposed measure to a battery of visual and statistical tests for convergent validity by comparing it to the most commonly used media-based measure of public attention — issue coverage in the New York Times. Across a range of policy issues (health care, global warming, and terrorism), the proposed measure demonstrates convergent validity. The paper concludes by posing a series of important questions that the new measure will allow researchers to address.
Keywords: Mass Politics, Agenda Setting, Public Attention, Salience, Measurement, Internet Search Trends
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