Google Searches Reveal Racism in Voters
Everyone's a little bit racist sometimes, as the Avenue Q song lyrics say, but people don't like to admit it to pollsters. The result is that minority political candidates who appear to do well in polls lose points when the real votes are counted up. The phenomenon is often called the Bradley effect, for Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley, who lost the 1982 California gubernatorial race after being significantly ahead in polls.
Three decades later, a doctoral student in economics has thought of a modern way of looking for the Bradley effect. Because it's difficult to accurately measure racism just by asking people in surveys, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz graded racial prejudice in different regions of the U.S. by finding how many people in those regions Googled phrases with the n-word in them. He left out "nigga," he wrote in the New York Times, as people searching for that word were generally looking for rap lyrics. N-word searchers, on the other hand, were looking for derogatory jokes.
He found that regions that searched for the n-word the most often also showed the most dramatic differences between polls' results for votes for Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential race and the actual number of people who voted for Obama. Racial animosity cost Obama 3 to 5 percent of the national popular vote in 2008, he estimated.
"Race could very well prove decisive against Mr. Obama in 2012," he wrote.
Meanwhile, over at the Atlantic, an editor muses that perhaps racially-motivated popular votes won't make as much of an impact on Obama's campaigning as Stephens-Davidowitz argues. Many of the regions Stephens-Davidowitz identifies as most prejudiced are already known as forgone losses. Other prejudiced regions, such as upstate New York and rural Illinois, have little effect on their state politics.