The 10 Most and Least Googled U.S. House Members

Want to get a sense of how well-known members of Congress are outside of D.C.? Here’s a look.

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Stephanie Stamm and Jamie Lovegrove
July 2, 2014, 1 a.m.

Ex­actly how much na­tion­al re­cog­ni­tion does each mem­ber of Con­gress hold? Which politi­cians are house­hold names and which are true un­knowns? As with so many of the great ques­tions of our time, Google may have the an­swer.

An ana­lys­is of search volume data us­ing Google Ad­words tools re­veals an in­triguing pop­ular­ity hier­archy among House mem­bers. These fig­ures rep­res­ent the ap­prox­im­ate av­er­age monthly Google searches for mem­bers from June 2013 to May 2014:

Un­sur­pris­ingly, Speak­er John Boehner heads the pack as the most googled mem­ber of Con­gress, and one of the most searched politi­cians in the en­tire Re­pub­lic­an Party — only Sarah Pal­in, Chris Christie, Rand Paul, and Ron­ald Re­agan reg­u­larly out­pace him. Lead­ers and po­lar­iz­ing fig­ures from both sides of the aisle join him, al­though only two Demo­crats (Nancy Pelosi and John Lewis) made the list. But while Boehner’s po­s­i­tion makes him a con­sist­ently pop­u­lar search tar­get, oth­ers are more er­rat­ic, boos­ted briefly by ma­jor head­lines from spe­cif­ic in­cid­ents.

Frank Wolf saw a massive spike of 246,000 searches in Decem­ber when he an­nounced his re­tire­ment after 17 terms in the House, open­ing up a ma­jor battle­ground seat in North­ern Vir­gin­ia. Mi­chael Grimm pro­pelled him­self in­to the up­per ech­el­on in Janu­ary after foot­age of him in­tim­id­at­ing a NY1 re­port­er fol­low­ing the State of the Uni­on went vir­al, and pro­sec­utors ce­men­ted his place in the top 10 after in­dict­ing him on 20 counts of fraud and oth­er charges in April. Trey Gowdy is the new­est ar­rival to the top 10, re­ceiv­ing 165,000 searches in May after Boehner ap­poin­ted the South Car­o­lina Re­pub­lic­an to head a se­lect com­mit­tee in­vest­ig­at­ing the 2012 Benghazi at­tacks.

After be­com­ing the first ever ma­jor­ity lead­er to lose a primary, Eric Can­tor will al­most cer­tainly climb up this list when data from June are factored in. Can­tor and oth­er mem­bers of House lead­er­ship also saw bumps in Oc­to­ber 2013 as a res­ult of the gov­ern­ment shut­down. Vance Mc­Al­lister also nearly made the list after a met­eor­ic rise in April fol­low­ing the re­lease of a sur­veil­lance tape show­ing the mar­ried Louisi­ana Re­pub­lic­an kiss­ing a staffer in his dis­trict of­fice.

De­term­in­ing the least-searched rep­res­ent­at­ives is more dif­fi­cult. Most Amer­ic­ans would not re­cog­nize the vast ma­jor­ity of the 435 mem­bers of the House — but who is the most an­onym­ous of all? Google knows:

Bot­tom 10 (Total An­nu­al Searches)

1. Filem­on Vela: 9,200

2. Lacy Clay: 9,460

3. Pete Vis­closky: 9,520

4. Mike Con­away: 9,760

5. Bob Gibbs: 10,090

6. Alan Nunnelee: 10,150

7. Robert Ad­er­holt: 10,440

8. Lu­cille Roy­bal-Al­lard: 10,840

9. Brett Gu­thrie: 11,380

10. Larry Buc­shon: 11,540

Filem­on Vela, a fresh­man Demo­crat from a newly cre­ated dis­trict in Texas, has evid­ently yet to draw much at­ten­tion na­tion­wide. Mis­souri Demo­crat Lacy Clay has served in the House for over 13 years, but he hasn’t made much noise in re­cent months either. Some politi­cians take pride in the “work­horse” ap­proach of be­hind-the-scenes pro­ductiv­ity while the “show horses” hog the lime­light, but these num­bers take an­onym­ity to an ex­treme.

Of course, this met­ric re­mains im­per­fect. Sev­er­al mem­bers share a name with a more fam­ous pub­lic fig­ure, which can pro­foundly skew the search stat­ist­ics. Tech­nic­ally, three of the four most-searched mem­bers are John Carter, Adam Smith, and Frank Lu­cas — but it’s safe to as­sume that a ma­jor­ity of those in­quir­ies were in­ten­ded for a 2011 Dis­ney box of­fice flop, a pi­on­eer of mod­ern eco­nom­ics, or a former heroin deal­er por­trayed by Den­zel Wash­ing­ton in Amer­ic­an Gang­ster.

To rem­edy this con­fu­sion, most mem­bers in that situ­ation had to be ex­cluded from con­sid­er­a­tion. The only ex­cep­tion was John Lewis — a prom­in­ent fig­ure in his own right who just hap­pens to share a name with a chain of up­scale Brit­ish de­part­ment stores. As pop­u­lar as the Geor­gia rep­res­ent­at­ive and civil-rights lead­er may be, it seems un­likely that he would re­ceive more than 6 mil­lion Google searches per month — es­pe­cially when 94.3 per­cent of them come from the UK. There­fore, only the 0.7 per­cent of searches dir­ectly from the U.S. were con­sidered eli­gible.

Google is hardly a com­pre­hens­ive meas­ure of na­tion­al name re­cog­ni­tion, but the search en­gine can serve as a valu­able in­dic­at­or. “Don’t be evil,” as Google’s motto in­structs — but you might see a surge in pub­li­city if you dabble in it.