by Max Brantley
Interesting analysis in NYT op-ed today. If you match up the parts of the country where people are most likely to search Google for racist terms — think N-word jokes — you are most likely to be in a part of the country where Barack Obama underperformed at the polls against standard expectations for a Democratic candidate.
Under this analysis, Obama lost many more votes to racism than previously thought, the writer concludes.
West Virginia was the worst in the deviations he found. See recent Democratic primary results as another indicator.
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.”
And many Americans use Google to find racially charged material. I performed the somewhat unpleasant task of ranking states and media markets in the United States based on the proportion of their Google searches that included the word “nigger(s).” This word was included in roughly the same number of Google searches as terms like “Lakers,” “Daily Show,” “migraine” and “economist.”
Arkansas tied for 14th in racially charged searches. (Of course, we lag in Internet connectivity, so ....)