Whatever their political affiliation, no one can dispute that Barack Obama made history when he took the oath of office on January 20, 2009. As Candidate Obama, he made the 2008 Top 10 list. As President Obama, both glamorized and pilloried, he slipped from the top Search slot in 2009. Then again, the people knew exactly where to look for him: in the White House. Once he stepped into the Oval Office and daily headlines, the public's interest moved from the man to the agenda, and from the campaign to the issues. Top 10 or not, president No. 44 commanded the Web. Here is what the people wanted to know about Obama in '09.
The people came by foot and subway, by bus and plane. Citizens, estimated 1.8 million strong, gathered in chilly, 27-degree weather at the National Mall to bear witness to Barack Obama's swearing-in ceremony. Millions more watched on television and computer screens, creating record traffic in person and online.
Obama himself took a train, retracing the whistle-stop route taken by his Illinois forefather, Abraham Lincoln. Every moment was scrutinized, from prayers to poems, from Aretha Franklin's hat to John Roberts' flub. The key moment was Obama as orator. The man who could speak soaringly of audacity and change took on a somber note. He talked of crisis, of fears, and of "work to be done." There were still parties to be had that day, but the tone was set for America's "new era of responsibility." —VC
The journey to the Democratic presidential nomination took nearly 17 months, and the faceoff against Republican ticket McCain-Palin was another 5. And through it all, questions were asked repeatedly about the junior senator from Illinois. The first mass inquiry into Barack Obama's background on Yahoo! Search came in October 2006. Later, his visit to New Hampshire sparked speculation of a historic rivalry.
Obama declared his candidacy for president before a statue of Abraham Lincoln in Springfield, Illinois, but it wasn't until his Iowa caucus win a year later that Search surged. Web lookups were investigative, pernicious, and sometimes ridiculous, as old rumors persisted about his religion and birthplace. But the highest spikes for "Barack Obama biography" occurred the day after his election victory and Inauguration Day. —VC
Obama as orator made his fair share of speeches during his candidacy, and as No. 44, he tugged at citizens' ears many times in 2009.
As Candidate Obama, his speech on race and his victory speech pulled in the searches on Yahoo!. As president, the speeches commanding the closest Web scrutiny were his inaugural address and the one he gave to schoolchildren in the fall. The ruckus engendered by the second showed a growing immunity to his charms, and naysayers made exaggerated claims that he abused the first-person pronoun. However, as a known wordsmith, Obama showed this year—during his inaugural address, his Cairo speech to the Muslim world, and his private pitches to world leaders—that he can stand and deliver. —VC
America was headed at breakneck speed to an economic breakdown, and the country was taking the whole world with it. The problems were years in the making and complex, touching everything from overextended credit and ballooning mortgages to Wall Street speculations and toxic banks.
Well before No. 44 took office, people wanted the details of "Obama's economic stimulus plan." The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act revisited Keynesian economics. Its breadth underwent bitter debate: Some governors refused handouts, and people protested online and at tea parties. By 2009's end, the economy had reeled back and the Act had added 2.3% to the gross domestic product, but unemployment rates had crept higher. With 80% of the stimulus money still left to spend, the verdict's still out on whether Obama's plan worked. —VC
Obama adulation ranged from ancient Greek god comparisons to rock star declarations. Many, though, connected to Obama as a family man, with first lady Michelle as his better half. Over 2009, searches on Yahoo! honed in on the Obama family: their move to the White House, the daughters, mom-in-law's arrival, a new family pet, and vacation getaways. The Obama family splashed across covers of celeb magazines, already domesticated with their reports on baby bumps and celebrity offspring.
But not all the familial focus was neighborly, as queries checked fibs that his African roots made him ineligible to be president. Born in America's 50th state to a Kansas woman and a Kenyan father, raised with an Indonesian stepfather and later by his maternal grandparents, Obama is both a citizen of the world and uniquely American. —VC
Within days of taking office, campaign promises turned into rapid-fire executive orders. A domestic stimulus bill and troop withdrawal from Iraqi cities were underway. Nearly all provoked spats, but the "Obama health care plan" unleashed feverish protests and ended the honeymoon period.
Most people agree: The system is broken. But not everyone considers health care a right or insurance a business for government. Principled disagreements and wild accusations erupted in town halls and Congressional aisles, with the infamous "You lie!" outburst interrupting Obama's health care speech. Temperatures cooled by autumn as a divided House and Senate worked on plans. Status? Still on life support. —VC
No. 44 started off on a historic high with 68% job-approval ratings. Before the 100-day mark, the AP report card came out noting that nearly half of Americans felt the country was headed in the "right direction"—a 31-point rise since October. At 100 days, the thumbs-up was at 63%, second only to Reagan.
Of course, that meant 37% weren't fans, and probably most likely to search for "anti-Obama stickers" and "impeach Obama." Satisfaction soured during a summer of discontent over health care. By winter, Obama was barely keeping his head above the halfway mark. History shows approval can be fickle. His accomplishment may not have been how much citizens approved, but how he kept an impassioned nation engaged. —VC
Mom and Dad are one thing, but "friending" the president of the United States on Facebook—sure, why not? Other politicians may have used the Web in their campaign strategies, but Team Obama didn't meet a social network it didn't like. The president (who famously tussled for control of his BlackBerry) appointed the nation's first Director of New Media. Besides a spiffed-up Whitehouse.gov website (under intense geek scrutiny), a government site popped up for every major issue.
But that's so Web 1.0. Obama made weekly addresses on YouTube, and citizens the world over signed up for his latest status updates on Twitter. His Facebook fan record did get surpassed—by Michael Jackson and Vin Diesel. —VC
Obama didn't just make history: He broke frequent-flier records. The jet-setter got his passport stamped more than any other freshman president. He spoke in Cairo to repair Muslim-American relations, London for the G20, and China to broaden relations. Efforts to bolster American diplomacy also happened via global social networking.
Most U.S. presidents find out quickly that foreign affairs can be easier to carry off than domestic ones. Like a seesaw, his international star rose as his home-nation appeal waned. During the summer of health-care spats, favorable global opinion of the U.S. returned to 2000 levels. "Extraordinary efforts" didn't go unnoticed: His December trip will be to accept the Nobel Peace Prize for strengthening "international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples." That'll be another 3,894 frequent flier miles. —VC
In a democratic republic, fundamental disagreements over strategies (Afghan conflict), policies (health care) and principles (government intervention) are inevitable and even healthy. In the free-for-all that's the Web, nitpicking can range from cabinet picks to mom jeans.
Barack Obama hit peculiar controversies on the campaign trail. Among the first to spark searches in 2009 was the chimp cartoon, which inadvertently revived racial stereotypes. Lookups also flared over Obama's greeting to the Saudi king, Notre Dame pro-life protests, and ASU withholding an honorary degree. On the plus side, he made up for his political stumble with a beer "interaction," kept up White House holiday traditions, and impressed with his sleight of hand—with flies. When you're the leader of the free world, no move is too small to search. —VC
Starting December 1 thru 31, 2009, we're giving away a 32GB iPod touch with $100 iTunes gift certificate each and every day for the entire month. Winners will be notified via @reply from the Yahoosearchdata Twitter account. See official rules for more details.