by Kyle Swenson
Now that we're (finally) in the end stretch of the presidential election, all different species of barstool theories are getting tossed around about what could possible influence the outcome. How will Obama's debate belly-flop nudge the numbers? Can Romney escape the empty chair stagecraft? Will Paul Ryan's chiseled abs turn off overweight voters?
Among the ideas bubbling up to the surface is this 10-ton elephant hulking in the corner again: Will people not vote for Obama because he's black?
Harvard grad student Seth Stephens-Davidowitz decided to see if race does in fact play a role in political choices in certain states. The bad news is that it does, and that by the study's metrics, Ohio is among the most racist states in the nation.
According to the New York Times piece penned by Stephens-Davidowitz, the research involved boils down to what people punch into Google in private. The author examined the use of racist language in online searches, then compared areas with a high frequency of this racist language with the 2004 and 2008 voting patterns. The author hypothesizes a guy or gal who floats racist jargon in the privacy of his or her computer room will allow similar prejudices to grab the steering wheel in the voting booth.
Once I figured out which parts of the country had the highest racially charged search rates, I could test whether Mr. 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.
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.
Ohio, you racist son of a bitch.
Obviously, this is a controversial claim. Surely, there are some pretty titanic assumptions in play in what Stephens-Davidowitz sees in the data — all the more reason to read the full article for the whole picture. Seriously, read it, especially if you're sitting there at your own laptop sharpening your knife, preparing to jump into the comment section. Disagree with Stephens-Davidowitz by all means, but don't be trollin'. You know you love trollin'. This here is an adult conversation.