Using Google to track racism in America
In a FASCINATING EXPERIMENT, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, a doctoral candidate in economics at Harvard University, has compared Google search results with presidential election returns to track racism in America:
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” inLos 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.”
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 [Barack] 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.