A volatile commentary this week in the New York Times sheds light on perhaps the most ominous fears of many supporters of President Barack Obama and bolsters what they believed all along.
“How Racist Are We: Ask Google,” is a fascinating examination of the correlation between Americans’ Google searches and their voting patterns.
“If my results are correct,” writes Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, “racial animus cost Mr. Obama many more votes than we may have realized.”
“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 many Americans use Google to find racially charged material,” Davidowitz wrote.
Davidowitz, a doctoral candidate in economics at Harvard argues regions of the country with the highest number of racist Google searches are consistent with areas where Obama struggled for votes in 2008.
“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),” Davidowitz reported.
“This word was included in roughly the same number of Google searches as terms like “Lakers,” “Daily Show,” “migraine” and “economist,” he discovered. Ultimately, Davidowitz’s results didn’t necessarily surprise me, but are still eye-opening.
According to the writer, West Virginia – where Obama has fared poorly – has the highest racially charged search rate in the country. Recently, in the state’s Democratic Primary 42.28 percent of Democrats cast their vote for Keith Russell Judd, a white inmate at the Beaumont Federal Correctional Institution in Beaumont, Texas. Judd is doing time for extortion and threats made at the University of New Mexico in 1999. President Obama captured 57.72 percent of the vote.
Remember in 2008 former Sen. Hillary Clinton demolished Obama 66.93 percent to 25.77 percent in the West Virginia Democratic Primary.
Other areas with the highest racially charged search rates include western Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio, upstate New York and southern Mississippi. None of these areas would be mistaken for “Obama Country.”
The late legendary Rep. Jack Murtha openly decried western Pennsylvania – the region he represented – as, “a racist area.” Eastern Ohio borders both western Pennsylvania and West Virginia and seemingly shares many of those regions racial mores. In many ways notoriously conservative upstate New York is worlds apart from New York City. And southern Mississippi is historically infamous for racist violence and intolerance.
Davidowitz’s findings seem brutally logical.
“The results were striking: The higher the racially charged search rate in an area, the worse Mr. Obama did,” he wrote.
He offers two media markets, Denver Colo., and Wheeling, WV, as empirical evidence to support his conclusions. He reports John Kerry in 2004 garnered about 50 percent of the votes in both markets. He argues based on the large gains for Democrats in 2008, Obama should have received about 57 percent of the vote in both areas. However, Denver had the fourth lowest racially charged search rate in the country. Indeed, Obama did receive 57 percent of the vote in Denver, but less than 48 percent in Wheeling, which had the seventh highest rate of racially charged searches.
“Add up the totals throughout the country, and racial animus cost Mr. Obama three to five percentage points of the popular vote,” Davidowitz reported. “In other words, racial prejudice gave John McCain the equivalent of a home-state advantage nationally,” he wrote.
The consensus of the vast majority of political observers is the 2012 election in November will be infinitely closer than 2008. The specter of racism – if anything augmented since Obama’s historic election – could play a major role in determining the outcome in November.