Herman Cain: How the recent Web buzz fits this year's GOP pattern.

New research shows that the meteoric rise by Herman Cain in the polls has been mirrored by a surge in Internet search traffic, even bypassing that for Sarah Palin. But will it last?

Brian C. Frank/Reuters
Presidential candidate Herman Cain applauds as he waits to speak at the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition's Presidential Forum at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines, Iowa on Saturday. Republicans Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann took veiled swipes at surging presidential rival Cain on Saturday as six of the party's White House hopefuls courted social conservatives at an Iowa forum.

Question: What do you get when you mix 81 percent disapproval (in a recent Gallup poll) of the direction the country is headed with the current crop of GOP hopefuls?

Answer: Candidates that come out of nowhere to lead the pack, most of whom fizzle in record time.

That’s the consensus of analysts looking at research released Monday by Chitika Insights, the research arm of the Westborough, Mass.-based online ad network, Chitika.

By monitoring the online search traffic from search engines Google, Bing, Yahoo, and others, Chitika’s researchers have chronicled the dramatic web-based surge of interest in Herman Cain alongside the equally dramatic falloff of interest in Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

“Six weeks ago, the former Godfather Pizza CEO was a relative unknown and garnered only about 2 percent of the search traffic,” Chitika said in its release. “However, since Cain surprised the political world with his win of the Florida straw poll, his momentum has been unabated, and is now tied with Mitt Romney for the lead on”

The study was done from Oct. 14 through Oct. 20. According to study author Joseph Regan, the two key findings are:

• Mr. Cain garnered 53 percent of Web searches covering the Republican primary candidates. This is a sharp increase from the 2 percent he received just six weeks ago.

• Cain now elicits a higher volume of searches than does Sarah Palin, a feat none of the other candidates managed in previous samples.

If this sounds like an expected reflection of the poll numbers that Cain’s turnaround has engendered, that’s true, analysts say. But coupled with the quick rise and falloff of other front-runners – including Donald Trump, Michele Bachman, and Rick Perry – a compelling pattern is emerging that tells us some interesting context for election 2012.

“This research is dramatic proof backing up the observation that people are dissatisfied with government and are looking for someone to lead us to a better day,” says Villanova political science professor Lara Brown, author of “Jockeying for the American Presidency.” She notes that even during Watergate, Gallup polls showed only 66 percent of Americans dissatisfied with the direction of the country compared with the 81 percent in the most recent poll.

By going to the Internet search engines and feeding in such phrases as “Herman Cain,” “Herman Cain and 9-9-9 tax plan,” “Herman Cain and electric fence comment,” voters are trying to find out who this man is, what he has said, and what he stands for. Once they do find out – as happened with Mr. Trump, Ms. Bachman, and Mr. Perry – the scrutiny leads to dissatisfaction, Professor Brown notes.

“One of the great truisms of politics is that the more that is known about candidates, the less they are liked,” says Brown. “I don’t think this should be a surprise that [Cain] has seemingly come out of nowhere, nor should people be surprised if his numbers fall off just as fast, like Donald Trump, Rick Perry, and Michele Bachmann.”

One of the compelling observations about the rise and fall of so many candidates, say Brown and others, is that the 24/7 media environment and new media – blogs, social networking, Twitter, etc. – are creating a faster “morning glory” cycle than ever.

Brown uses the term “morning glory” because back in the early 1900s, the US senator from New York, George Washington Plunkitt, used to compare reformers to the flowers that shoot up like rockets and fade at nightfall.

Brown’s Villanova colleague, political scientist Matthew Kerbel, says the Chitika research says more about Mitt Romney than Herman Cain.

“Having looked elsewhere, the Republican establishment is coming to terms with the inevitability of a Romney candidacy, but the voters – at least so far – haven't gotten the memo,” says Kerbel. “Flirtations with Trump, Bachmann, Perry, and now Cain suggest base voters are still looking to fall in love, so Romney's polling remains flat. It's likely to stay that way unless and until Romney becomes the only viable candidate standing.”

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