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Hillary Clinton, As Defined by 12 Years of Google Searches

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Ida Mae Astute/ABC via Flickr

Hillary Clinton’s Twitter bio is mildly provocative, but only if you can appreciate the cultural baggage that comes with it.

The presidential candidate describes herself as a “Wife, mom, grandma, women+kids advocate, FLOTUS, Senator, SecState, hair icon, pantsuit aficionado, 2016 presidential candidate.”

In a culture that prizes political power and encourages people to compartmentalize different aspects of their identities, it’s perhaps unexpected to see “Secretary of State” as No. 7 on the list. (Then again maybe not: Women who are mothers are often expected to define themselves first in domestic terms, regardless of their professional accomplishments. Recall the 2013 obituary for Yvonne Brill in The New York Times, which described her as a mom who left work to raise her children and the maker of a “mean beef stroganoff,” and—in the next paragraph—“also a brilliant rocket scientist.”)

Motherhood isn’t necessarily a status that ambitious women are taught to trumpet in the professional world. While men get a pay bump for being fathers,women’s pay drops with each additional child.

Clinton, in particular, has had a difficult time as a wife and mother in the public eye. In 1992, she set off a firestorm with a snarky quip about her decision to build a career rather than having “stayed home and baked cookies and had teas.” She still faces criticism and mockery for her husband’s infidelity.

By now, Clinton doesn’t need Twitter to tell you who she is. Her bio on the site is instead, like all calculated political messaging, a way of simultaneously conveying her values and challenging her critics. (The mention of pantsuits and hairstyles is similarly, if more playfully, an acknowledgement of the harsh scrutiny she’s faced over the years.)

When you’re Hillary Clinton, and you’re seeking ways to connect with voters and broaden your appeal, maybe it’s more important to remind people that you’re a grandma than it is to remind them that you’ve served in the U.S. Senate, and as Secretary of State, and as the first lady, and oh by the way you’re also running for president of the United States.

But to the rest of the world, professional accomplishments are how Clinton is defined. That’s according to 12 years of data, provided by Google Trends, that shows how people view the presidential candidate across her public and private roles. (And, hey, if you need to brush up on the finer points of Clinton’s very long resume, the campaign has you covered. It’s not like Clinton’s camp is downplaying her professional accomplishments.)

Here are the most popular search terms related to Clinton, beginning with the most frequently searched, over the course of 12 years:

  • Secretary of State
  • President
  • First Lady
  • Grandmother
  • Mom
  • Wife

Though her stint as a U.S. senator is curiously absent, the larger pattern is clear: The public sees Hillary Clinton first in conjunction with her biggest public-facing jobs. This is understandable, for a lot of reasons, but especially given the need for voters to vet her performance in those jobs as she runs for president.

Still, the list reads almost exactly in the reverse of the way she apparently sees herself—or wants people to see her, anyway—on Twitter. This also represents a reversal of sorts from her earlier public image, when she resisted putting the domestic sphere first. But Clinton’s not conforming to the expectations of those who seek to define women in domestic terms, she’s challenging the cultural perception of motherhood. Moms, it turns out, can now be nominated by major political parties for the presidency. Plus, reminding voters that she’s a wife and grandma arguably makes her more relatable; her list of professional achievements is rare, to say the least.

Clinton joined Twitter back in 2013, long before it became clear (or, many would say, even seemed plausible) that Donald Trump would be her opponent in the general election. At the time, Clinton’s bio was this: "Wife, mom, lawyer, women & kids advocate, FLOAR, FLOTUS, US Senator, SecState, author, dog owner, hair icon, pantsuit aficionado, glass ceiling cracker, TBD..."    

The text was slightly different, but the tone was essentially the same. Or, as The Washington Post put it then: “Hillary Clinton joins Twitter, sounds human.” Sounding human remains important for Clinton, who has struggled with favorability ratings as a presidential candidate. But now, sounding unlike Trump may also be a virtue. Is there anything less Trumpian than a grandma?

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