Harvard Study Claims Racism Cost Obama 3 To 5 Percent Of Vote In 2008

June 14, 2012 7:45 a.m.

A study by a Harvard doctoral candidate claims that racism cost President Barack Obama an estimated 3 to 5 percent of the national popular vote in 2008, yielding his opponent Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) “the equivalent of a home-state advantage country-wide.”

“Quantifying the effects of racial prejudice on voting is notoriously problematic,” Harvard doctoral candidate Seth Stephens-Davidowitz wrote of his study in the New York Times. “Few people admit bias in surveys. So I used a new tool, Google Insights, which tells researchers how often words are searched in different parts of the United States.”

Stephens-Davidowitz analyzed Google searches from 2004 through 2007 and charted how frequently racial epithets like “nigger” were used in various regions. He did not include data after 2007 “to avoid capturing reverse causation, with dislike for Obama causing individuals to use racially charged language on Google.”His study showed that West Virginia was the state with the largest racially charged search rate in the county, while western Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio, upstate New York and southern Mississippi all had high percentages as well.

“Whether many white Americans will not vote for a black presidential candidate is perhaps the most renowned problem complicated by social desirability bias,” Stephens-Davidowitz concludes. “Scholars have long doubted the accuracy of survey results on this sensitive question. Google search query data, this paper shows, offer clear evidence that continuing racial animus in the United States costs a black candidate substantial votes.”

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