Google search activity may or may not be predictive here, but this is interesting nonetheless:

For virtually all of 2011, including the past month, there is more search activity about Ron Paul than any other candidate.  I thank John Coleman for highlighting this for me.

What could this mean?  Maybe Ron Paul supporters just spend a lot of time on the internet.  Or maybe this is another indicator of the intensity of their support.  One thing supporting the latter interpretation: search activity for Paul seemed to presage his second-place finish in the Iowa Straw Poll.  If this proves true again, then Ron Paul is headed toward a strong showing in Iowa.  His poll numbers are up in Iowa as well.

I’ll go even further out on a limb.  Say Gingrich wins Iowa but does a little worse than “expected.”  Paul comes in second and does better than “expected.”  Romney comes in a distant third.  How much of a bounce would Paul then get in New Hampshire?  After all, he’s in third place there and his numbers are also trending up.

I’m not suggesting that Ron Paul is going to win the nomination.  That’s unlikely.  But at the moment, the conversation is mostly centered on Gingrich v. Romney and it may downplay the extent of Paul’s success and impact in the early states.

[Cross-posted at The Monkey Cage]

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John Sides is an associate professor of political science at George Washington University.