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Michael Fertik Headshot

We Don't Know Jack: Kentucky's Online Race Results

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What happens when you've got 155 "dopplenamers" versus your competitor's slim 2.3 name matches? When you're "Jack Conway" and he's "Rand Paul," the results are evident. We don't know Jack!

I need to make some full disclosure before proceeding:

  1. I'm a contributor to Conway's Senate campaign. I know Jack personally and actively support his campaign. I have a personal connection to Kentucky, and I believe Conway is the best candidate for the state.
  2. However, this column in non-partisan and even-handed. We're not talking about politicians' stance on the issues; we're talking about the impact of their "first page search results platform" on their campaign. As you can see, even though I support Jack's campaign, this column finds that Rand Paul's Google results serve him more favorably than Jack Conway's do at this stage.

Message Match: Rand Paul 4, Jack Conway 2

Statistical analysis shows the likelihood of 155 "Jack Conways" in the U.S. We also know that ninety percent of individuals don't go beyond the first page of Google. The Kentucky democratic candidate's first page results reflect how dopplenamers can dilute impact online.

Jack Conway the Kentucky Senator candidate shares the first page of his Google results with Jack Conway the real estate agent (he appears twice in the top ten results). Jack Conway the theatre director (IMDB) is also there, as is Rand Paul, his vocal contender. This can serve up confusion instead of clarity: voters may ask themselves whether Jack was formerly a real estate tycoon; a celeb-turned-politician?

No dopplenamer hogs the page for Rand Paul. Not only does Paul have the benefit of a very unusual name, he's also hammered clearly and loudly on messages through his controlled websites (webpage, twitter, Facebook) and reinforced these messages through regular media appearances. In spite of his status as a first-time political contender with a 17-year ophthalmology practice leading his resume, Rand Paul maintains great control over his political messaging online. Specifically, for example, even though Paul got some flack over comments about the Civil Rights Act, discussion of that incident is no longer on the first page of his search at the time of this writing. It used to be, but now it's gone!

If you think owning your search results doesn't matter, think again. We're a society that's hungry to learn more about you the potential employee, you the date, you the lawyer for-hire online. Search results have a huge impact in forming this understanding. One of the most common political activities people take online is to use search engines to find information on candidates. In the 2008 Presidential election 74 percent of Internet users--representing 55 percent of the entire adult population--went online to get involved in the political process or to get news and information about the election (Pew Internet Study, 2009).

Tone: Rand Paul 4, Jack Conway 2

Conway has managed to develop a consistent message in his campaign, but Rand Paul's message seems to burst forth from search engines.

"Passionate, principled, unafraid." As suggested by his tagline, Rand Paul makes his opinions and platform loud and clear through the mash-up of resources available to today's politicians, including social media, talk shows, online articles and public appearances. Search results reflect the same.

Of course, the GOP candidate has had some campaign gaffes. Paul was criticized for his statements on civil rights and the BP oil spill. But both of those moments are now gone from his search results. It's especially remarkable that the gaffes have had no serious staying power on the web. Why and how? The Paul campaign appears to have strong control of the static search results (campaign page, twitter, Wikipedia). His campaign also creates regular, fresh, nationwide news. While the general public may remember the Rand Paul gaffes for now, Google may be soon be forgetting....

DigitalDecision 2010 determines that in the case of the dopplenamers versus the outspoken newcomer, in this round and by this measure, Rand Paul is pulling ahead.