Dec 29, 2023 - Politics & Policy

The moments that stole a divided America's attention in 2023

Data: Google Trends; Chart: Jared Whalen/Axios

Donald Trump and Taylor Swift managed to hold Americans' interest throughout 2023 while a host of other news cycles came and went, according to Axios' annual analysis of Google Trends data.

Why it matters: This project helps separate intense but fleeing interest from the few people and moments that actually captured widespread attention from a divided and distracted America.

  • Details: This analysis tracks the the topics that drove the greatest share of people's Google searches throughout the year. It first launched as a way to document the busy and unprecedented first year of Donald Trump's presidency. Six years later, he still dominates America's internet searches.

The highest highs: 5 events generated particularly big spikes in search interest — moments that captured America's attention, but didn't necessarily hold it.

  1. Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin, during the week of his sudden collapse on the field due to cardiac arrest. No other topic took up a greater share of Google searches in a single week.
  2. Israel came in second, with searches surging following the Oct. 7 terrorist attack by Hamas, which killed more than 1,200 people.
  3. The Titan tourism submersible, which imploded on its way down to the wreckage of the Titanic, killing all five people on board.
  4. The sudden passing of "Friends" actor Matthew Perry united people in their searches for information about his life and death.
  5. The Barbie movie along with Donald Trump's first and final arraignments all received equal interest scores, tying for the 5th biggest moments.

The steady performers: The list above captures some of the biggest single moments of the year. But interest in other topics was longer-lasting — staying top of mind for most of the year, even when battling other hot breaking news events for attention.

  • Taylor Swift's average interest score for the year was higher than any other person, topic or event we analyzed. She was continually a person of interest – whether it was searches for her Eras Tour, the tour's film, the re-release of old albums or her new relationship with the Kansas City Chiefs' Travis Kelce.
  • Donald Trump was the only person or topic to make the top 5 both for the biggest moment and most consistent interest in 2023.
  • Ukraine came in third, when measuring sustained interest over the course of the year. The country has struggled to continue its fight against Russian aggression, while U.S.'s support has faced more skepticism from Republicans.
  • President Joe Biden came in fourth.
  • Beyonce, LeBron James and Israel were the only other topics whose search interest never fell all the way to zero, among the 50 search terms we analyzed.

Go deeper: Visit our past projects for 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022.

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