Of Strikes and Sportsbooks: What Ohioans Googled in 2023

The Google search bar is the quickest route to find out the latest information on developing news stories or dive deeper into that trend that everybody seems to be talking about. In 2023, Ohioans searched for both international stories and topics that hit closer to home. Cover graphic by Jason Mecchi for Midstory.

This year has been a whirlwind of news and ever-shifting topics du jour, from geopolitical conflict and AI to natural disasters and striking workers. Lighter but no less controversial topics included Barbenheimer, Taylor Swift and McDonald’s Grimace shake. 

Google measures general interest in all of these topics and more, and releases a yearly report to reflect on what topics people searched for throughout the year. But global and even national data doesn’t give the full picture of the American experience — people living in California may have searched very differently from those living in New York, Texas or, say, Ohio.

Here are some of the biggest search terms from Ohioans — and why they piqued interest in the Buckeye State. While many of the state trends mirrored national ones, others reflected a particular interest by Ohioans. Because of this, the trends listed here were handpicked from the hottest searches of the year to reflect topics that Ohio seemed especially invested in.

Note: To explore more of the Google Trends data for each search term, click the section heading.

East Palestine

The small Ohio town of East Palestine became a center of national attention this year when a massive train crash and chemical spill devastated the community on February 3. The incident prompted discussions about transportation infrastructure, workplace safety and water pollution that extend beyond the accident itself.

The Railway Safety Act of 2023 bill was introduced by Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown and co-sponsored by Ohio Senator J.D. Vance in March to improve rail safety by tightening regulations and funding research. As of January 2024, the bill has yet to make headway in the Senate but still remains afloat for a future vote.

Sportsbook

At the beginning of the year, sports gambling was officially legalized in the state of Ohio, and you may have noticed an influx of advertisements for sportsbooks in Ohio and beyond in 2023. Searchers across the state have started flexing their new ability to bet on sports through apps like Bet365, Fanduel and DraftKings, especially during January.

Since its legalization, the sports gambling industry in Ohio has erupted to nearly $6 billion bet, with $780 million in taxable income earned. Tax dollars from sports gambling in Ohio are primarily going toward education, and a small portion also goes toward helping allay gambling addiction in the state. 

UAW Strike

Michigan was, by far, the state with the highest search interest in the United Auto Workers strike against Ford, General Motors and Stellantis. That said, Ohio still showed a high proportion of interest in the strike compared to the rest of the country. One of the three sites of the strike was at Stellantis’ Toledo Assembly Complex in Toledo, Ohio. The history of both the automotive industry and labor movements have left significant marks on Ohio, and this shared memory may have also contributed to interest in the strike.

The strike ran from September 15 through October 30 and resulted in new contracts with the “Big Three” car manufacturers. The UAW strike was part of a year of increased visibility for labor movements across the country, with other major strikes happening in the entertainment and hospitality industries, among others. Experts say that while union support is up, union membership has been declining for years, and there are still cultural and legislative barriers to union activity.

Ohio Issues 1 and 2

Google Trends compares search terms based on time period, so it’s not really surprising that “Ohio Issue 1 2023” and “Ohio Issue 2 2023” trended more in 2023 than in 2022. That said, Ohio’s state elections this year were major for Ohio residents as they decided in an August special election how easily the state’s constitution can be amended (the first “issue 1”). In November, Ohioans voted on an abortion rights amendment (the second “issue 1”) and marijuana legalization (“issue 2”).

Google Trends data reveals that Ohioans were carefully following the results of these key issues during both elections. In August, 39.03% of voters turned out and ultimately rejected the first issue 1. This meant that amendment rules for the November elections were not changed, and both issues passed in an election with a 49.63% voter turnout. These new laws went into effect on December 7, but decisions about both of them are still being made into 2024, including regulation of marijuana dispensaries and how issue 1 impacts current abortion laws.

ChatGPT

One of the most dominating search trends of the year was for the breakout artificial intelligence star, ChatGPT. Naturally, the AI chatbot trended across the country over the course of the whole year. So, while this term was not particularly trendy in Ohio compared to other states, it is still one of Ohio’s hottest terms of the year.

Ohio has the sixth most colleges and universities of any state as of 2022, including major institutions like The Ohio State University. So, as higher education races to integrate AI into research, industry and more, ChatGPT may be particularly important for the state moving forward. OSU professors have recently expressed excitement and concern over how the tech can both help researchers and encourage cheaters in colleges, depending on how it’s used. And, of course, ChatGPT has implications across sectors like work, homelife and healthcare, among other areas.

Air Quality Index

Ohio was one of the states most impacted by the air quality issues that lingered throughout the summer of 2023. Smoke from Canadian wildfires blew down into the U.S. in May and June, causing record-breaking poor air quality across the country. On the most severe days, many Ohioans could see the smoke — and they could certainly feel the effects.

The Ohio Department of Health warned residents to stay inside and keep hydrated amid the worst of the smoke. People who may never have had to pay attention to the air quality index suddenly needed to keep close track of it, vulnerable populations like the elderly and pregnant women. This all comes as part of a larger pattern of extreme weather, like wildfires, heat waves and flooding, that experts say is increasing due to climate change.

Commotio Cordis & Damar Hamlin

The incredibly rare injury suffered by Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin on January 2, 2023, trended all across America (as did the athlete himself). Commotio cordis describes a type of cardiac arrest brought on by a blow to the chest during a specific moment in the heartbeat cycle. In Ohio, searches for the athlete and the injury especially skyrocketed in January, perhaps because the cardiac incident happened during a game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Similarly, actor Bruce Willis’ health troubles following his 2022 aphasia diagnosis put frontotemporal dementia on the trending list. These high-profile cases thrust certain medical conditions into the spotlight, informing the public about health issues that usually fly under the radar.

Taylor Swift

As TIME’s 2023 person of the year, Taylor Swift enjoyed a boost in stardom this year thanks to her Eras Tour, concert film, romance with Kansas City Chief Travis Kelce and continued rerelease of her albums under the “Taylor’s Version” label. Hardcore Swifties and casual fans alike made Swift one of the most searched topics in Ohio, peaking when her tour reached Cincinnati in late June.

Between March and August, Swift’s tour netted a $780 million estimated gross across 56 shows, making it the most popular tour of the year. In second place, Beyoncé also celebrated a major year with her Renaissance World Tour, which grossed an estimated $460 million and also released as a concert film, although it did not make a stop in Ohio.

Barbie vs. Oppenheimer

Two of the biggest movies of the year, “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” smashed box office expectations and started a cultural phenomenon as moviegoers chose which one to see on opening night (July 21) or opted for both as a “Barbenheimer” double feature. Domestically, “Barbie” is the highest-grossing movie of the year with a $636 million gross, with “Oppenheimer” in fifth place, grossing $326 million.

Ohio search trends show that the state was more interested in “Barbie” than in “Oppenheimer,” but they both spiked around opening weekend, reflecting a general interest in both movies. Local publications from Cleveland to Toledo reported on moviegoers heading out to the movies' opening weekend, some in costume, to see the year-defining films.

A note on methodology: The numbers provided by Google Trends do not represent absolute number of searches, but rather search interest on a scale from 1-100. This number is based on how search terms perform in comparison to other search terms for a given period of time. Google Trends reports some data points as “<1.” These data points have been removed for the purposes of this article, and so some graphs have gaps in data.

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