How Racist Are We? Ask Google

New research has emerged that attempts to uncover how racist we are in the United States and how this affects voting. On June 9, The New York Times published Seth Stephens-Davidowitz’s summary of his research, which is titled (Pdf link) “The Effects of Racial Animus on a Black Presidential Candidate: Using Google Search Data to Find What Surveys Miss.”

Stephens-Davidowitz stated that he used Google Insights for Search, a new service that reveals search terms people have been entering into Google, in order to capture what people are “really thinking and feeling.” Using data from 2004 to 2007 to avoid racist sentiment toward Obama, he ranked states and media markets based on the proportion of their Google searches that included the word “nigger(s).” In order to test whether these racist search rates affected voting in the 2008 election, he determined how many votes Obama should have received based on John Kerry votes in 2004 plus the average gain attained by other 2008 Democratic Congressional candidates. 

He found that “the higher the racially charged search rate in an area, the worse Mr. Obama did.” For an example, he used the cities of Denver and Wheeling, where 50 percent of voters casted a ballot for Kerry. Based on congressional gains, Obama should have received 57 percent of the vote in both cities. He achieved this in Denver, which had the fourth lowest racially charged search rate. But in Wheeling, which had the seventh highest racially charged search rate, he garnered less than 48 percent of the vote.

Stephens-Davidowitz writes:

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 … Add up the totals throughout the country, and racial animus cost Mr. Obama three to five percentage points of the popular vote.

West Virginia had the highest racially charged search rate in the country. Western Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio, upstate New York and southern Mississippi were other areas with high rates. 

AlterNet / By Alyssa Figueroa

Posted at June 11, 2012, 6:32pm

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