A May 7 Los Angeles Times poll puts George W. Bush ahead of Al Gore, 47 percent to 39 percent, in a head-to-head matchup. That’s about where the two candidates were in a May 3 NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, too. Chatterbox was pondering the significance of this data when he received an e-mail from Jacob Stohler, a North Carolina-based Web designer and proprietor of Popsheet.com, a portal to Web sites about pop singers, movie and TV actors, and sports stars. Stohler had been fiddling around with a particular feature on bCentral.com, a Web site for small businesses. (The Web site is owned by Microsoft, which, coincidentally, also owns Slate.) The feature, “keywords,” allows a business to pay a certain amount to secure a banner ad that pops up whenever a certain word is entered in the MSN search engine. The feature is somewhat analogous to the display ads businesses purchase to run near their listings in the Yellow Pages. The price you pay for your banner ad varies according to the word you choose to trigger its appearance; the words entered most frequently into the search engine (therefore likeliest to give your banner ad a big audience) are the most expensive to reserve. Playing with the keywords price-checker, Stohler found that “Elian” was going for a mere 47 cents per day, “Clinton” for 83 cents per day, “millionaire” for $4.90 per day, “sex” for $262 per day, and so on.
Chatterbox entered “George W. Bush” and “Al Gore” into the keywords price-checker. “George W. Bush,” it turns out, is going for $1.97 per day. “Al Gore” will cost you $2.60 per day. Just “Bush” is going for $2.52 per day, which is still below what “Al Gore” is getting, even though it is the name both of a former president and of this year’s putative Republican presidential nominee. However, “Bush” commands a significantly higher price than just “Gore,” which costs $1.87 per day. But this may be attributable to some public indifference or distaste toward Gore’s late father, former Tennessee Sen. Al Gore, or toward distant Gore relatives Gore Vidal and Deborah Gore Dean, or possibly toward Lesley “It’s My Party and I’ll Cry If I Want To” Gore, the ‘60s teen-pop singer. Or it may be that the words “bush” and “gore” are not considered proper names at all by the people who enter them in the MSN search engine, and that Dubya’s advantage here reflects most people’s preference for topiary (or, if you want to get slangy, sex) over violence. “Chatterbox,” incidentally, goes for the humiliatingly low price of 15 cents per day.