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The Effects of Racial Animus on a Black Presidential Candidate: Using Google Search Data to Find What Surveys Miss

Seth I. Stephens-Davidowitz

Harvard University - Department of Economics; Google, Inc.

June 9, 2012

How can we know how much racial animus costs black candidates if few voters will admit such socially unacceptable attitudes to surveys? I use a new, non-survey proxy for an area’s racial animus: Google search queries that include racially charged language. I compare the proxy to an area’s votes for Barack Obama, the 2008 black Democratic presidential candidate, controlling for its votes for John Kerry, the 2004 white Democratic presidential candidate. Previous research using a similar specification but survey proxies for racial attitudes yielded little evidence that racial attitudes affected Obama. Racially charged search, in contrast, is a robust negative predictor of Obama’s vote share. My estimates imply that continuing racial animus in the United States cost Obama 3 to 5 percentage points of the national popular vote in 2008, yielding his opponent the equivalent of a home-state advantage country-wide.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 53

Keywords: Race, Voting, Prejudice, Obama

JEL Classification: C80, D72, J15, P16

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Date posted: May 4, 2012 ; Last revised: June 11, 2012

Suggested Citation

Stephens-Davidowitz, Seth I., The Effects of Racial Animus on a Black Presidential Candidate: Using Google Search Data to Find What Surveys Miss (June 9, 2012). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2050673 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2050673

Contact Information

Seth I. Stephens-Davidowitz (Contact Author)
Harvard University - Department of Economics ( email )
Littauer Center
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
Google, Inc. ( email )
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Second Floor
Mountain View, CA 94043
United States
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