With an election looming, Australians are turning to their web browsers for answers about the PM and opposition leader Kevin Rudd. Figures supplied by internet monitoring agency Hitwise show that, while the top 20 search terms are predictable on an individual basis, the results get more interesting when compared. 

Here are Howard’s top five search terms, with other notables entries in the top 20:

    1.     John Howard
    2.     *John Howard Reid – irrelevant search 
    3.     News John Howard
    4.     John Howard lies
    5.     Prime Minister John Howard
    6.     Is John Howard sending more Australian troops to Iraq in 2007?
    12.   John Howard jokes
    13.   John Howard height
    16.   John Howard cartoons
    18.   John Howard biography

Kevin Rudd’s top five are much the same, though in the top 500 ranked search terms, the word “lies” does not appear once. But in the top 20, you’ll find the following entries:

    5.     Kevin Rudd’s wife
    6.     Kevin Rudd’s wedding
    7.     Kevin Rudd’s biography
    9.     Kevin Rudd’s daughter
    15.   Kevin Rudd date of birth
    17.   Kevin Rudd Chinese
    19.   Kevin Rudd bio
    20.   Kevin Rudd pictures

The obvious conclusion is that the electorate is using the web to get to know the alternative PM. But what about his policies?

    12.    Kevin Rudd Budget
    13.    Kevin Rudd Kyoto protocol
    14.    Kevin Rudd education
    16.    Kevin Rudd Budget reply 
    29.    Kevin Rudd broadband
    33.    Kevin Rudd policies
    38.    Kevin rudd childcare

Contrast that with Howard, for whom there is nothing on specific policies inside the top 25, which suggests people think they already know what he stands for (as Richard Farmer wrote in yesterday’s Crikey: “there is as much chance of changing the impression people have of John Howard as there is of convincing Vegemite eaters that Marmite is better.”) Instead we get the far more general:

    9.       Pictures of John Howard
    10.     John Howard quotes
    11.     John Howard Wikipedia
    19.     John Howard Australia

And then some policy searches from number 26 on:

    26.     John Howard climate change
    30.     John Howard forest policy smh article
    32.     John Howard nuclear power
    38.     John Howard and terrorism
    42.     John Howard global warming

Policy and biography are not the only topics of interest to voters. Here’s a few notable mentions for the PM:

    47.     John Howard children overboard
    53.     Australian dollar devalued 70s John Howard
    77.     John Howard migrants Australian values
    160.   John Howard why we went to war in Iraq
    224.   Will John Howard be re-elected
    236.   “John Howard” “Pru Goward” affair

And Mr Rudd:

    36.     Kevin Rudd vain
    65.     Kevin Rudd in Wayne Goss government
    87.     Why does Kevin Rudd keep kissing Julia Gillard
    126.   Kevin Rudd no longer to appear on sunrise
    162.   Kevin Rudd ministerial experience
    184.   Kevin rudd policy on nuclear power
    285.   How tall is Kevin Rudd?

But the above figures need to be put into the wider context of total Australian internet use. According to Hitwise, politics attracted 0.106% of all Australian internet traffic last week. It’s worth stating that again in case you missed it – 0.106%. That’s less than brands and manufacturers (0.113%), superannuation (0.132%), and new age (0.158%). And it’s much less than gambling (0.531%), dating (0.767%), total visits to all sports websites (2.834%), and total visits to all “adult” sites (10.445%).

Unlike the United States, where both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have their own MySpace pages and content-rich personal websites, the internet is far from a potent political tool in Australia. And while it might not be completely surprising, “adult” web content is 100 times more popular than anything to do with Australian politics, even in an election year.

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Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey