Sarah Holder is a staff writer at CityLab covering local policy, housing, labor, and technology.
Immigration lawyers and psychologists were in high demand—as were margaritas.
On Election night 2016, as Donald Trump’s path to the presidency became ever more assured, the service-locating website Yelp detected an unusual spike in searches: Users were looking for immigration lawyers. At 11 p.m. Eastern time, the search term was used twice as many times as normal. By morning, six.
A new report from Yelp’s data lab analyzes what Americans looked for in one year under Trump, using hour-by-hour and month-by-month search trends for specific local services between November 2016 and 2017. The resulting portrait isn’t exactly scientific, but it does serve as a kind of barometer of American anxieties. Unlike Google searches, which are more like the unfiltered id of the internet, Yelp is all business: It’s mostly about helping users find places to brunch and stuff to buy. Still, current events have a way of seeping into the data. “People use Yelp for a lot of things that aren’t explicitly political,” says Carl Bialik, data editor at Yelp. “So we thought we probably would see, just, life goes on.”
Instead, the data painted a dire picture of a pretty dire year, Yelpwise. By inauguration day in January, “immigration lawyer” queries had returned to normal, but when the president first announced the travel ban in February, searches again spiked to three times their normal weekly rate. Later policy announcements correlated with subsequent peaks.
The disasters—both natural and man-made—that came to define 2017 were also reflected on Yelp searches for blood donation centers. In late summer, a pair of hurricanes swept the southeast, claiming 245 lives. In October came the mass shooting in Las Vegas, killing 59 people and injuring about 500 others.
Mass shootings (such as the Orlando Pulse incident in summer 2016) and disasters ravaged the U.S. in the previous year, as well. But overall the number of people looking to give blood in 2017 grew 250 percent, according to Yelp, shifting the baseline accordingly.
This was also a year that self-help searches surged. On Election Day, people used Yelp to find a psychologist 1.5 times as frequently as usual. As Inauguration Day loomed, demand leapt again.
Seasonal depression leads to natural ebbs in mental health problems during summer and winter. But when comparing this and last year’s October, however, the escalation is clear: Around 37 percent more people were searching for psychologists each week this October than last October, a rate that’s more than double the baseline minimum daily activity.
Other Yelp users looked for other means of mood regulation. On November 8, searches for cannabis purveyors bubbled up. “At first I thought, oh, do people want to get high after the election?” Bialik says. But the effect was mostly seen in those states that voted to lift marijuana regulations.
Although Yelp’s report focused primarily on the confluence of the political and the personal, not all the data they scraped reflected a grim march of anxiety and catastrophe. “There were also more searches for margaritas on Cinco de Mayo this year than last year,” says Bialik. “That probably doesn’t have much to do with Mexican border politics—just more people wanting to celebrate Cinco de Mayo.”