How much does search traffic really mean? Search popularity indicates interest, but not necessarily support or opposition; to get a sense of why people submit a given inquiry, it’s worth considering the most popular terms paired with that inquiry. In the case of [ron paul], Americans are most interested in what Paul is up to in Iowa, how he’s polling, and his debate performances -- all essentially neutral search queries. Some of the fastest-rising searches over the past 30 days, however, are [ron paul newsletter] and [ron paul racist]; this evidence of growing interest in the controversial newsletters distributed under Paul’s name in the 1980s and 90s doesn’t seem likely to prove a positive sign for the good doctor’s candidacy.

How about the other candidates? Iowa and New Hampshire are among the top states searching for Newt Gingrich, who also performs well in South Carolina, where new polls show him holding a double-digit lead.

Rick Perry, meanwhile, whom polls suggest is battling Gingrich for third place in Iowa, has been the second-most popular Republican in search queries in the past month in the Hawkeye state, leading everyone but Ron Paul. Nationally, however, negative Perry search terms are high and rising; his highest period of News Search traffic over the past month, for instance, coincided with his campaign’s release of a widely parodied ad, “Strong,” in which he makes a play for evangelical voters. The ad’s viral reception prompted heavy search traffic, driving [strong] and [rick perry strong] to the top of search terms for the Texas Govenor. But the ad’s 7 million YouTube views have resulted in 23,000 likes and 710,000 dislikes -- suggesting again that sheer search traffic doesn’t necessarily translate to positive momentum.

In the past few days, several new polls have emerged showing a sudden surge in support for Rick Santorum. Searches for his name in Iowa certainly mirror these results, with a steep spike during the week of December 25. This still, however, puts him nowhere close to Ron Paul’s massive lead in searches.