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What Do Michele Bachmann and Ozzy Osbourne Have In Common?

BY Nick Judd | Wednesday, July 20 2011

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and Ozzy Osbourne are both riding the crazy train straight to the bank, political science professor Justin Buchler suggests in a new article in "The Forum," a Berkeley Electronic Press journal of peer-reviewed articles about contemporary American politics. (Via The Monkey Cage)

As the American political scene has evolved into the creature of cable news and blogs that it has become, Buchler writes, politicans like Bachmann or former Rep. Alan Grayson, the Democrat of Florida, can play their flamboyant, provocative style of politics to a national audience. They become, Buchler writes, not Internet famous, but Internet infamous — and while it raises their profiles and campaign account balances, that infamy has its drawbacks. It's not exactly biting the head off of a bat, but the analog is apparently enough for Buchler to title his article "Going off the Rails on a Crazy Train: The Causes and Consequences of Congressional Infamy" — a reference, of course, to the classic Ozzy hit.

What stethoscope does Buchler use to get the heartbeat of sentiment around each candidate? Why, search results, of course:

If we want to understand congressional infamy, the first task is to measure it. So, this paper proposes a measure of infamy for Members of Congress based on the frequency with which their names are used as internet search terms paired with epithets attacking either their intelligence or their sanity. Using that measure, the paper examines the statistical predictors of internet infamy.

So does Google Autocomplete serve as a popularity contest? No, Buchler doesn't go that far.

"In essence, [these data] measure the breadth and intensity of one’s political opposition on the internet," he writes, "and the degree to which that opposition takes the form of ridicule and ad hominem attack."

And so it is that the professor has created a chart noting the epithets that political fanatics, either deliberately or in an innocent search for people who agree with them, have associated with each of a number of prominent politicians by including them in searches for those political figures. The list includes Bachmann and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.), both contenders for the Republican presidential nomination this year, but also Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), Anthony Weiner, from results compiled before the former congressman's sexting ways were revealed, and Washington's Democratic U.S. Senator, Patty Murray.

Does Google think you're wondering if former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who may also be running for president, is "Batsh**t?" Yes, Buchner writes. In one of his two sweeps of Google, he found that the search engine predicted that users were wondering if Sarah Palin was "batsh**t" and "crazy."

The results of this infamy are mixed, Buchler writes. While it increases a candidate's ability to raise money, it also increases the ability of competitors to raise comparable amounts simply because they are running against a polarizing figure — something Grayson in particular might be familiar with, as he was ousted last year after just one term in office.

The whole article is here.

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