Coolest research methodology ever (yes, there’s lots of racist voters out there)

Okay, maybe I’m a little too won over and not being sufficiently critical, but I absolutely love the idea of using data on Google searches via metro area to analyze political questions.  In this case, a Harvard Economics PhD Student, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz has looked at the use of the “n” word via metro area to see how those areas voted for Obama versus what we would expect given Kerry’s performance in 2004.  Pretty fascinating.  To wit:

Consider two media markets, Denver and Wheeling (which is a market evenly split between Ohio and West Virginia). Mr. Kerry received roughly 50 percent of the votes in both markets. Based on the large gains for Democrats in 2008, Mr. Obama should have received about 57 percent of votes in both Denver and Wheeling. Denver and Wheeling, though, exhibit different racial attitudes. Denver had the fourth lowest racially charged search rate in the country. Mr. Obama won 57 percent of the vote there, just as predicted. Wheeling had the seventh highest racially charged search rate in the country. Mr. Obama won less than 48 percent of the Wheeling vote.

Wow!  Now, I’m not sure I want to buy the larger conclusion, but it is interesting:

Add up the totals throughout the country, and racial animus cost Mr. Obama three to five percentage points of the popular vote. In other words, racial prejudice gave John McCain the equivalent of a home-state advantage nationally.

Naturally, the first thing I did was head to Google Insights to try this stuff out myself.  Damn is this cool.  I decided to compare my current home of Raleigh-Durham to my former home of Lubbock, Texas.   As Stephens-Davidowitz mentions that “porn” is an even more popular search than “weather,” I did include that among my searches.   Using the google 0-100 metric, Lubbock outdid Raleigh 81 to 47– how’s that for one of the most conservative counties in the country?!  Maybe we could blame it all on Texas Tech.  Do this search on porn, and we get the related search suggestion of “gay porn.”  Surely, Raleigh must outstrip Lubbock there?  Nope.  Here’s the graphic for the last year of “gay porn” searches in Lubbock and Raleigh-Durham.

This really presents a potentially really amazing tool for answering political questions.  I’ve got to figure out how I can do some parenthood and politics research with this.


About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

2 Responses to Coolest research methodology ever (yes, there’s lots of racist voters out there)

  1. J-Dog says:

    Wow that is cool. Thanks

  2. mike says:

    So… You were searching for porn on Google.
    Purely for research purposes, of course… Sure, sure.

    Sorry. Couldn’t pass it up. 😉


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