Brow Beat

Is Google Saying Something about Mitt Romney?

 Republican presidential candidate former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Photograph by Darren McCollester/Getty Images.

Google turns out a curiously partisan result when users type “Romney can win” into the site’s search bar. The search engine provides an ordinary-looking set of (more than 50 million) results—but also, at the top of the page, includes a suggestion:

“Did you mean: ‘Romney can’t win?”

Romney has maintained a tenuous position at or near the top of the Republican field for months, but he has struggled to gain broad support among the party’s base. (Herman Cain, the former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, is ahead of him in the latest CBS News poll.)

Is Romney’s lackluster support the reason behind Google’s not-so-subtle suggestion? It’s tough to tell without unpacking the complicated algorithms the site uses to rank search results. But so far, Romney is the only presidential candidate for whom the Google glitch applies. (And yes, we even checked Huntsman.)

It’s not the first time Google search results have provided Internet users with a taste of conventional political wisdom. From 2003 until 2007, users who typed in the term “miserable failure” into the Google search bar were greeted by the official White House biography of George W. Bush. That result—like other so-called “Google bombs”—was the handiwork of users who gamed the site’s search rankings by setting up large numbers of outside links to a certain page.

In this case, however, it appears that Google’s less-than-charitable correction concerning Mitt Romney’s chances for victory is only incidentally partisan, and not a clever trick by political pranksters. Not human ones, anyway.