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Monday, December 5, 2011

San Franciscans Are Not Googling "the N-Word"

Posted By on Mon, Dec 5, 2011 at 1:45 PM

click to enlarge Hey Barry! Guess what my constituents haven't been Googling!
  • Hey Barry! Guess what my constituents haven't been Googling!

In 2008, Barack Obama was the rising tide that buoyed all San Francisco ships -- at least the ones that floated a bit to the left. A massive turnout for "Hope" and "Change" -- 84 percent of a swollen turnout voted for Obama -- also led to victory for progressive candidates endorsed by the local Democratic party.

But let's not focus on them. How about the 16 percent of folks who didn't vote for the president? A new study indicates that, whatever reason they had for choosing other candidates, it likely wasn't because Obama is a black man. San Francisco ranked on the low end in quantifiable racism in a unique paper penned by a Harvard economics doctoral student. Its title: "The Effects of Racial Animus on Voting:

Evidence Using Google Search Data."

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz measured the frequency Googlers in around 200 media markets comprising 99 percent of the electorate looked up the term "nigger." He then compared "an area's racially charged search volume to its votes for Barack Obama, the 2008 black Democratic presidential candidate, controlling for its votes for John Kerry, the 2004 white Democratic presidential candidate." While self-reported surveys on racial attitudes have indicated that racism played little to no part in any recent elections -- overt racism is no longer en vogue in the United States -- Stephens-Davidowitz claims his work indicates the president overcame a 3- to 5-percent hurdle due to "racial animus."

But not here.

Within his paper, Stephens-Davidowitz only notes that Google searches for "nigger" or "niggers" were least common "in Laredo, TX  -- a largely Hispanic media market; Hawaii; parts of California; Utah; and urban Colorado." In an interview with NPR's On the Media, however, he specifically noted that San Franciscans are Googling racist epithets at a very low rate.

People searching for "nigger" with the highest frequency as a percentage of all regional Google queries are found in West Virginia, upstate New York, rural Illinois, eastern Ohio, and southern Mississippi. Stephens-Davidowitz claims between around 7 and 11 percent of white Democrats did not vote for Obama due to racial animus, which translated into a 3- to-5 percent advantage for John McCain -- and, of course, Obama's future challenger:

The percent motivated by animus is the number of votes lost due to animus divided by the total number of whites who would have supported a white Democrat. As turnout was unaffected by racial animus, the denominator is the number of whites who supported Obama plus the number of votes lost due to animus. Exit polls suggest 41.7 percent of 2008 voters were white Obama supporters. The percent motivated by animus is estimated between 3/44.7=6.7 and 5/46.7=10.7 percent. Between 6.7 and 10.7 percent of white Democrats did not support Obama because he was black.

A one standard deviation increase in an area's racially charged search is associated with a 1.5 percentage point decrease in Barack Obama's vote share, controlling for John Kerry's vote share. The results imply that, relative to the area with the lowest racial animus, racial animus cost Obama between 3 to 5 percentage points of the national popular vote. Racial animus gave Obama's opponent the equivalent of a home state advantage country-wide.

San Franciscans may yet, however, be Googling "nigga," a mainstay of rap lyrics, at

higher-than-average levels. Both Google -- and Stephens-Davidowitz --

consider searching for this term to be wholly separate endeavor than

trolling for "nigger." To wit:

Rap songs including

the version ending in 'a' are roughly 45 times as common as rap songs

including the version ending in 'er.' - Author's calculations based on

searches at A famous comedy routine

by Chris Rock used the word "nigga." One by Dave Chappelle uses the term

ending in "er."

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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