Google Searches Reveal States Where Racism Cost Obama in ’08
Voters in Ohio, W.V. and upstate New York may be racially biased against president.
When Barack Obama won the 2008 presidential election, it proved that the country was now in post-racial mode, right? Not quite.
Google searches during that election year reveal that voters in states such as Ohio, West Virginia, and upstate New York did not vote for Obama in as high numbers as they did for Democratic nominee John Kerry in 2004 because of racial bias. Racism in these regions may have cost Obama up to 5 percent of the popular vote and may make it harder for him to edge past Republican rival Mitt Romney on Election Day 2012.
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, a doctoral candidate in economics at Harvard University, used a new tool called Google Insights to determine how racist certain states appeared to be for his study, “The Effects of Racial Animus on a Black Presidential Candidate.” He examined Google data from 2004 to 2007 to determine how often people in different states conducted searches including the N-word.
“The state with the highest racially charged search rate in the country was West Virginia,” he found. “Other areas with high percentages included western Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio, upstate New York and southern Mississippi.”
Stephens-Davidowitz then examined how well Obama performed in regions with high numbers of racist searches.
“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,” he explained. “The results were striking: The higher the racially charged search rate in an area, the worse Mr. Obama did.”
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In an area called Wheeling that spans West Virginia and Ohio, Obama received less than 48 percent of the vote. But based on how Kerry performed in that locale in 2004 and how other Democratic candidates performed there in 2008, Obama should have received about 57 percent of the vote.
“Add up the totals throughout the country, and racial animus cost Mr. Obama three to five percentage points of the popular vote,” Stephens-Davidowitz said. “In other words, racial prejudice gave John McCain the equivalent of a home-state advantage nationally.”
If race gives Mitt Romney a home-state advantage across the United States, President Obama may not enjoy a second-term in office.