Connecting Google dots

It’s pathetic that there’s such a close correlation between racism and Obama’s chances, but it doesn’t surprise me. The people I know who really hate Obama are the same people I’ve had to berate for sending me racist email jokes for years. Yet faced with the economic crash, even some of those people voted for Obama with a rationale that was something along the lines of, “the Republicans have screwed up so bad that I have to vote for the black guy.” The president is going to have to figure out some useful way to peel away some of these voters again, or he’ll lose:

Barack Obama won 52.9 percent of the popular vote in 2008 and 365 electoral votes, 95 more than he needed. Many naturally concluded that prejudice was not a major factor against a black presidential candidate in modern America. My research, a comparison of Americans’ Google searches and their voting patterns, found otherwise. If my results are correct, racial animus cost Mr. Obama many more votes than we may have realized.

Quantifying the effects of racial prejudice on voting is notoriously problematic. Few people admit bias in surveys. So I used a new tool, Google Insights, which tells researchers how often words are searched in different parts of the United States.

Can we really quantify racial prejudice in different parts of the country based solely on how often certain words are used on Google? Not perfectly, but remarkably well. Google, aggregating information from billions of searches, has an uncanny ability to reveal meaningful social patterns. “God” is Googled more often in the Bible Belt, “Lakers” in Los Angeles.

The conditions under which people use Google — online, most likely alone, not participating in an official survey — are ideal for capturing what they are really thinking and feeling. You may have typed things into Google that you would hesitate to admit in polite company. I certainly have. The majority of Americans have as well: we Google the word “porn” more often than the word “weather.”

[…] A huge proportion of the searches I looked at were for jokes about African-Americans. (I did not include searches that included the word “n*gga” because these searches were mostly for rap lyrics.) I used data from 2004 to 2007 because I wanted a measure not directly influenced by feelings toward Mr. Obama. From 2008 onward, “Obama” is a prevalent term in racially charged searches.

The state with the highest racially charged search rate in the country was West Virginia. Other areas with high percentages included western Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio, upstate New York and southern Mississippi.

Once I figured out which parts of the country had the highest racially charged search rates, I could test whether Mr. Obama underperformed in these areas. I predicted how many votes Mr. Obama should have received based on how many votes John Kerry received in 2004 plus the average gain achieved by other 2008 Democratic Congressional candidates. The results were striking: The higher the racially charged search rate in an area, the worse Mr. Obama did.

4 thoughts on “Connecting Google dots

  1. Um, that study? Obama’s lack of support due to racism was measured by the lack of support for him. (I.e. by the difference between his support and that for other Dem politicians.)

    That is circular.

    I could think of a few reasons not to support him besides racism.

    If you actually wanted to measure the effect of racism, you’d have to separate out the different reasons for not voting for him. For instance, see how many of those who voted for him in 2008 won’t do so now and subtract them out.

    Unfortunately, polling has pretty well answered that and it doesn’t help the anti-Obama=racist argument much.

  2. Recently a long time acquaintance told me just exactly what he thought of Obama (I’ll leave that to your imagination, but he’s a Fox Kool-Aid drinker) and all I could do was thank him for being so honest about it, rather than being all mealy-mouthed, beat around the bush chicken-shit about it like the rest of the retards.

    Then I punched his lights out. I’m really looking forward to his finding out I’m sleeping with his ex-wife, who divorced him over the aforementioned. I really hope he starts something, one punch just doesn’t satisfy the jones.

  3. Oh, it’s certainly not the whole story, as I’ve said here before when talking about the white working class and racism. They’re willing to ignore their racial attitudes if it offers a reasonable hope of making something else better. But some people are so deeply racist, it wouldn’t matter if he waved a magic want and turned their houses to gold.

  4. What in the world happened to the “post-racial” society everyone blah-blah-blahed about after Obama’s election in ’08. Oh, that’s right, it was bullshit to begin with. And if anyone out there wants to see something worst than the Bush years, vote for Romney. Think things can’t get any worse? Let Romney get his grubby paws on the next Supreme Court nominee. Citizens United will seem like a kid’s birthday party!

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