Each year, Google releases its Zeitgeist list of searched terms that rose quickly to popularity. The measurement isn’t for most searched, which inevitably leads to weather and movies, but for terms that accelerated fastest from obscurity to being household words. The results range from serious crises to people who enjoyed 15 minutes of fame.
Overall, U.S. politics didn’t provide a breakout star in 2011. The top of the Zeitgeist list included YouTube sensation Rebecca Black, Hurricane Irene, Casey Anthony, iPhone 5 (which wasn’t released as expected), Osama bin Laden and Steve Jobs. In the image subsection, the list is self-explanatory for the need for visuals: planking, Justin Bieber 2011, Pippa Middleton, Mariah Carey twins and royal wedding.
In the news subsection, Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul was the only politician on the list, at No. 10, likely because of the Texas congressman’s grass-roots popularity. Second among news searches was the new hippy movement Occupy. The Arab spring piqued American interest, as both Libya and Egypt made that list.
The search-engine giant has a separate list specifically for the fastest-rising terms in politics. Former GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain took first place, but his signature 9-9-9 tax plan didn’t make any list. Fellow Republican presidential contender Rick Perry, the Texas governor who was briefly the front-runner, came in eighth. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the Arizona Democrat who was shot in the head by a deranged constituent, was No. 2. Next was “Obama jobs plan,” which must have disappointed many who searched it and found there are still no new jobs to be had.
Former Rep. Anthony D. Weiner’s wife, Huma Abedin, a top aide to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, was No. 7 on the politics searches overall. A pregnant Ms. Abedin followed in her boss’s footsteps and stood by her man as the New York Democrat resigned from office after tweeting a photo of his private parts and sexting multitudes of women.
The Weiner scandal scored No. 2 in a special subcategory of political scandals. The Rupert Murdoch scandal topped that category for the phone-tapping investigation, while Internet surfers this year were oddly interested in dredging up old hubbubs, including those involving Newt Gingrich, Barney Frank and David Vitter.
Google also singled out top rising economic issues of 2011. The debt ceiling topped the list as Washington spent three months fighting over how much spending to cut to borrow another $2.1 trillion. Lawmakers cut nothing in the end, but ironically, “budget cuts” came in at No. 7.
President Obama stoked class warfare all year, which made people look for answers to “top 1 income,” “income inequality” and “U.S. wealth distribution.” (The answer to the 1 percent question is about $350,000.) The economic impact on American lives was evident as “recession 2011” and “inflation 2011” were third and fourth on the list.
The terms not included on Google’s lists show how insular Washington can be. Despite much drama, Americans weren’t suddenly interested in information about government shutdown, continuing resolution, Buffett tax, Pledge to America, Senate budget, omnibus, payroll tax holiday or supercommittee.
What will 2012’s fastest-rising searches on Google be? Perhaps: Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, extension of Bush tax cuts and outgoing President Obama.