Thread: How Racist Are We? Ask Google
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- 06-12-2012, 08:03 AM #1
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How Racist Are We? Ask Google
How Racist Are We? Ask Google
By SETH STEPHENS-DAVIDOWITZ
June 9, 2012, 5:46 pm
won 52.9 percent of the popular vote in 2008 and 365 electoral votes, 95 more than he needed. Many naturally concluded that prejudice was not a major factor against a black presidential candidate in modern America. My research, a comparison of Americans’ Google searches and their voting patterns, found otherwise. If my results are correct, racial animus cost Mr. Obama many more votes than we may have realized.
Quantifying the effects of racial prejudice on voting is notoriously problematic. 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.
Can we really quantify racial prejudice in different parts of the country based solely on how often certain words are used on Google? Not perfectly, but remarkably well. Google, aggregating information from billions of searches, has an uncanny ability to reveal meaningful social patterns. “God” is Googled more often in the Bible Belt, “Lakers” in Los Angeles.
The conditions under which people use Google — online, most likely alone, not participating in an official survey — are ideal for capturing what they are really thinking and feeling. You may have typed things into Google that you would hesitate to admit in polite company. I certainly have. The majority of Americans have as well: we Google the word “porn” more often than the word “weather.”
And many Americans use Google to find racially charged material. I performed the somewhat unpleasant task of ranking states and media markets in the United States based on the proportion of their Google searches that included the word “******(s).” This word was included in roughly the same number of Google searches as terms like “Lakers,” “Daily Show,” “migraine” and “economist.”
A huge proportion of the searches I looked at were for jokes about African-Americans. (I did not include searches that included the word “nigga” because these searches were mostly for rap lyrics.) I used data from 2004 to 2007 because I wanted a measure not directly influenced by feelings toward Mr. Obama. From 2008 onward, “Obama” is a prevalent term in racially charged searches.
The state with the highest racially charged search rate in the country was West Virginia. Other areas with high percentages included western Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio, upstate New York and southern Mississippi.
Once I figured out which parts of the country had the highest racially charged search rates, I could test whether Mr. Obama underperformed in these areas. 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. The results were striking: The higher the racially charged search rate in an area, the worse Mr. Obama did.
Consider two media markets, Denver and Wheeling (which is a market evenly split between Ohio and West Virginia). Mr. Kerry received roughly 50 percent of the votes in both markets. Based on the large gains for Democrats in 2008, Mr. Obama should have received about 57 percent of votes in both Denver and Wheeling. Denver and Wheeling, though, exhibit different racial attitudes. Denver had the fourth lowest racially charged search rate in the country. Mr. Obama won 57 percent of the vote there, just as predicted. Wheeling had the seventh highest racially charged search rate in the country. Mr. Obama won less than 48 percent of the Wheeling vote.
Add up the totals throughout the country, and racial animus cost Mr. Obama three to five percentage points of the popular vote. In other words, racial prejudice gave John McCain the equivalent of a home-state advantage nationally.
Yes, Mr. Obama also gained some votes because of his race. But in the general election this effect was comparatively minor. The vast majority of voters for whom Mr. Obama’s race was a positive were liberal, habitual voters who would have voted for any Democratic presidential candidate. Increased support and turnout from African-Americans added only about one percentage point to Mr. Obama’s totals.
If my findings are correct, race could very well prove decisive against Mr. Obama in 2012. Most modern presidential elections are close. Losing even two percentage points lowers the probability of a candidate’s winning the popular vote by a third. And prejudice could cost Mr. Obama crucial states like Ohio, Florida and even Pennsylvania.
There is the possibility, of course, that racial prejudice will play a smaller role in 2012 than it did in 2008, now that the country is familiar with a black president. Some recent events, though, suggest otherwise. I mentioned earlier that the rate of racially charged searches in West Virginia was No. 1 in the country and that the state showed a strong aversion to Mr. Obama in 2008. It recently held its Democratic presidential primary, in which Mr. Obama was challenged by a convicted felon. The felon, who is white, won 41 percent of the vote.
In 2008, Mr. Obama rode an unusually strong tail wind. The economy was collapsing. The Iraq war was unpopular. Republicans took most of the blame. He was able to overcome the major obstacle of continuing racial prejudice in the United States. In 2012, the tail wind is gone; the obstacle likely remains.
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz is a doctoral candidate in economics at Harvard. The most up-to-date version of the research paper on which this article draws is available here.
How Racist Are We? Ask Google - NYTimes.com
- 06-12-2012, 09:20 AM #2
This sounds as though it is gleaned from Obama's new data mining team. Or put out by them.
Obama’s data advantage Data mining 'reaches so far beyond anything politics has ever
I disagree with this "assessment" from Mr. -Davidowitz of Harvard, Mr. Obama's Alma matter.
Mr. Obama's financial policies, secrecy, subversion of the laws through agency regulations, race and sex based political pandering and seemingly left agenda have turned off more voters than his ancestry.
The studies generated by Harvard "researchers" that I suspect work for the Obama campaign will not change the record. A good researcher can make the data say whatever they want it to say - look at climate change. JMO
Last edited by Newmexican; 06-12-2012 at 12:49 PM.
- 06-12-2012, 04:02 PM #3
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- 06-13-2012, 11:38 PM #4
- 06-14-2012, 01:38 PM #5
Messina Consults Jobs to Spielberg in Crafting Obama's Campaign
By Joshua Green - Jun 14, 2012 5:00 AM CT
The day after Jim Messina quit his job as White House deputy chief of staff in January 2011, he caught a plane to Los Angeles, paid a brief visit to his girlfriend, and then commenced what may be the highest-wattage crash course in executive management ever undertaken.
He was about to begin a new job as Barack Obama’s campaign manager, and being a diligent student with access to some very smart people, he arranged a rolling series of personal seminars with the CEOs and senior executives of companies including Apple Inc. (AAPL), Facebook Inc. (FB), Zynga Inc. (ZNGA), Google Inc. (GOOG), Microsoft Corp. (MSFT), Salesforce.com Inc. (CRM), and DreamWorks SKG, Bloomberg Businessweek reports in its June 18 issue.
“I went around the country for literally a month of my life interviewing these companies and just talking about organizational growth, emerging technologies, marketing,” he says at Obama’s campaign headquarters in Chicago.
In two long, private conversations, Steve Jobs tore into Messina for all the White House was doing wrong and what it ought to be doing differently, before going on to explain how the campaign could exploit technology in ways that hadn’t been possible before.
“Last time you were programming to only a couple of channels,” Jobs told him, meaning the Web and e-mail. “This time, you have to program content to a much wider variety of channels -- Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, YouTube, Google --because people are segmented in a very different way than they were four years ago.”
When Obama declared for president, the iPhone hadn’t been released. Now, Jobs told him, mobile technology had to be central to the campaign’s effort.
“He knew exactly where everything was going,” Messina says. “He explained viral content and how our stuff could break out, how it had to be interesting and clean.”
At DreamWorks Studios, Steven Spielberg spent three hours explaining how to capture an audience’s attention and offered a number of ideas that will be rolled out before Election Day.
An early example of Spielberg’s influence is RomneyEconomics.com, a website designed by the Obama team to tell the story -- a horror story by their reckoning -- of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s career at Bain Capital LLC.
Afterward, Spielberg insisted that Messina sit down with the DreamWorks marketing team. Hollywood movie studios are expert, as presidential campaigns also must be, at spending huge sums over a few weeks to reach and motivate millions of Americans.
An awestruck tone surfaces when Messina talks about these encounters and what they taught him. At 42, he is tall and slightly stooped, with an innocent face, a flop of blond hair, and a sheepdog friendliness made somewhat surreal by the arsenal of profanity he deploys when not speaking for the record.
Messina, who’s from Denver, managed his first campaign as an undergraduate at the University of Montana and in the 20 years since has never lost a race. Before joining Obama in 2008, he alternated between running campaigns and working on Capitol Hill.
He made his name as chief of staff to Senator Max Baucus of Montana, becoming known as “Baucus’s muscle” for his skill as a behind-the-scenes enforcer. In 2005 he ran the Democrats’ successful pushback against George W. Bush’s plan to privatize Social Security.
“He had a talent for getting K Street to see that it was to their advantage to get on board with whatever Baucus was doing,” says Jim Manley, a former top aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. At the White House, Messina was instrumental in cutting the deal with the pharmaceutical industry that helped clear the way for the health-care overhaul law.
Messina is unusual in Washington, at once a hard-bitten political fixer known for handling unpleasant tasks -- “In the White House he was given all the, pardon my French, the s--t work,” says Baucus -- and also earnestly devoted to self- improvement in a way few Washington operatives would want revealed.
A sign on his old computer in Baucus’s office, hung with no evident irony and left there by the staff as a token of fondness, reads, “Be Better Today Than You Were Yesterday.”
Along with his conversations with chief executive officers, Messina’s regimen for the new job included reading a hundred years’ worth of campaign histories piled on a shelf above his desk. Still, his obsession runs to the future, not the past, and to business as much as politics.
Messina is convinced that modern presidential campaigns are more like fast-growing technology companies than anything found in a history book and his own job like that of the executives who run them.
“What they’ve done is more readily applicable to me, because they all started very small and got big very quickly,” he says.
Messina came to this insight through a relationship with someone keenly attuned to these changes and famous for having groomed two other young men to run a very large enterprise: Eric Schmidt, Google’s executive chairman. Messina considers him a mentor.
“Jim and I met in the 2008 campaign and just hit it off on a personal basis,” Schmidt says. “We became very good friends.” Schmidt was an early sounding board and later arranged many of the meetings with CEOs.
Obama can use the help. Re-election campaigns are unglamorous. For many supporters, the thrill of electing him has faded, and the idealism that once vitalized them has given way to disillusionment.
In 2008, Obama’s campaign earned acclaim for using technology to harness, in volunteers and dollars, the excitement surrounding his candidacy. He routed the Republican nominee, Arizona Senator John McCain, outspending him almost 3 to 1.
This race will be different. Romney and his allies may hold the financial upper hand, not least because the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010 allowed for a flood of corporate cash. The unspoken hope in Chicago is that superior strategy and a shrewd use of technology can make up for Obama’s diminished stature and more formidable opponent. So Messina has spent 18 months studying and building.
The Nov. 6 election will be a contest between two different visions of government and between competing ideas about how to reach voters. Romney’s campaign will take a traditional approach, heavy on television advertising and backed by a massive war chest.
Obama’s will rely on organization, scaling up to a national level the type of grassroots effort Messina once ran for Baucus in Montana. His big bet is that Schmidt, Spielberg, and the rest are right about how far technology has advanced -- that it’s come far enough to mitigate Obama’s disadvantages and solve what David Plouffe, the White House adviser who ran the last campaign, calls “our Electoral College Rubik’s Cube.”
In that sense, the campaign is about how best to run a large, complex enterprise, while under tremendous pressure and public scrutiny. Messina is wagering Obama’s second term on the idea that the collected wisdom of technology’s biggest titans can outsmart Romney, whose executive savvy has made him rich and brought him to the cusp of the presidency.
Presidential campaigns are rarely what they seem. For all that the candidates crisscross the country, offering sweeping national visions and vowing to represent everyone, they really focus on only a handful of states. A campaign manager’s job is to spin the fantasy and not fall for it.
The last election was unusual in that Obama conducted a national campaign, expanded the electorate, and won a broad swath of voters. This election will mark a return to the mean, as is already evident in Obama’s strategy, which aims to persuade a sliver of the electorate, not expand it.
Messina is focused on seven states -- Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Iowa, North Carolina, Colorado, Nevada -- that probably hold the key to the election. Neither the nature of the race nor the means of reaching voters will be quite the same.
Messina often tries to convey this to donors by telling the story of how he came to be campaign manager. It’s December 2010. He’s wading through chest-high surf in Hawaii with the president. Obama summons him over.
‘Got a Favor’
“I’ve got a favor I want to ask,” he says. “I’d like you to run the re-elect.” Messina replies that he’s flattered, yet he’ll only take the job on one condition: “You have to understand, this will be nothing like the last campaign.”
“I thought the last one went pretty well.”
“It did. But everything is different now.”
The story is a windup to a sermon Messina likes to give about the importance of technology in reaching voters -- a sort of TED talk that echoes a point about which Schmidt, too, is adamant. Last January, as Messina was beginning his new job, Schmidt stepped back from Google and Larry Page took over as CEO. Since then, Schmidt has become a kind of guru to Messina, an executive coach and kindred spirit.
The two became acquainted during the last campaign, just after Hillary Clinton dropped out of the race, when Messina, then Plouffe’s right hand, was preoccupied with ramping up for the general election.
“I said to him, ‘You’ve done what I’m being asked to do,”’ Messina says. “He said, ‘Yes, I have. Let me sit down with you, and we’ll talk.’ For three hours we sat in a conference room, and he just gave me advice about all the mistakes he’d made, about purchasing supply chains, about HR, about the blocking and tackling of growing fast and making sure you have organizational objectives.”
“What I like about Jim,” Schmidt says, “is that he starts the day thinking, ‘What are the analytical measurements that I should make decisions on?’ Many people in politics have no concept of what I just said. They’re intuitive thinkers, and they’re often right. But the difference is that to run a large operation in today’s world, the best way to do it is analytically. And you have the tools now.”
Even with the last campaign’s success using the Internet, Schmidt says the world hadn’t yet reached the point where technology could transform how people run for president.
“In 2008 most people didn’t operate” on Facebook and Twitter, he says. “The difference now is, first and foremost, the growth of Facebook, which is much, much more deeply penetrated into things. The other obvious ones are the growth of YouTube and Twitter. The smart people were using them in 2008; now everyone’s using them. You can imagine the implications of that. You can run political campaigns on the sum of those tools.”
Channel to Supporters
In his memoir of the 2008 election, Plouffe discusses technology’s importance. The 13 million e-mail addresses Obama collected were a potent way to raise money and a valuable means of talking to supporters as well.
“We had essentially created our own television network, only better,” he writes, “because we communicated directly with no filter to what would amount to about 20 percent of the total number of votes we would need to win -- a remarkably high percentage.”
Both Schmidt and Messina share a fondness for the metrics that highlight these changes: Facebook users have grown tenfold since the last campaign, to more than 900 million. In 2008 most users were in their teens or twenties; the fastest-growing segment now is people over 50.
On Election Day, Obama sent two Twitter messages to his 116,000 followers; today, he has 16 million followers, and his top advisers are all prolific Twitter messagers and minor social-media celebrities.
Extrapolating a bit, it isn’t hard to imagine the campaign having a direct line to 50 percent or 70 percent -- or maybe more -- of the voters it will need to win.
To reach this expanding universe of potential supporters, the Obama team spent nine months building a platform it calls Dashboard, which allows field staffers and volunteers to access and update the campaign’s voter database from an app on their phones.
Canvassers can visit a neighborhood and see which houses are targets and which are a waste of time. Everything is updated in real time -- no need to lug around a clipboard or check in at an office. And for voters, no more annoying knocks on the door when they’ve just gotten a phone call or e-mail.
Dashboard is an important component of what the campaign refers to as the “snowflake” model of organizing, the idea that each paid staffer creates and oversees an expanding network of volunteers -- a snowflake.
Last year, Obama’s fundraisers pushed big donors to contribute the annual maximum of $35,800 right away. This would cover the salary of one paid field staffer, who oversees five unpaid “neighborhood team leaders,” each of whom brings in five team members, who then recruit 20 volunteers apiece. Total: 500 people.
The campaign estimates each of the Obama snowflakes will produce an extra 1,000 votes. The earlier they did this, the more voters they would reach.
“My advice was to think about it in terms of quarters,” says Schmidt. “You really have six quarters between” the spring of 2011 “and the election. So essentially all of the key personnel decisions are made in the first quarter. And then you build from there.”
As Plouffe put it: “Politics always has room for feel and instinct. But there is so much now that is measurable. We think from a technology and data perspective that what Jim has built will be the best that politics has ever seen.”
Silicon Valley’s influence is evident even in the layout of the campaign’s headquarters. Designed with input from Facebook executives, the floor plan has few private offices and lots of big, collaborative open spaces where staffers work in pods.
This avoids a common Washington problem. The history of American presidential campaigns is full of infighting, hatred, and rivalries. Then Vice President Al Gore’s 2000 campaign and then-Senator Hillary Clinton’s 2008 bid were riven with factionalism among status-obsessed aides on different floors. Obama’s staff is spread across a single floor -- to outward appearances, happily.
At Schmidt’s suggestion, Messina bypassed the political pros who usually handle campaign technology and opted to build it in-house.
“Eric said to me, for a lot of these positions, you don’t want political people,” Messina says. “You need innovators, people who can get stuff done quickly.”
The campaign’s chief technology officer, Harper Reed, is a friendly, bearded startup veteran with lots of tattoos, who’d never worked in politics and was brought in from the online T- shirt vendor Threadless.com.
“He looks like he’s the heavy-metal lead guitarist in Metallica,” Messina says. “But he’s a genius. He threw out all the old conventional wisdom and said, ‘Show me what you want on a white board. I’ll build it for you.’ ”
Under Reed, the Obama team has built systems for registering voters, organizing volunteers, and generally vacuuming up and analyzing every available bit of personal data -- voting patterns, political contributions, and consumer preferences as well as what people read and share, and how they respond to e-mails, ads, Twitter messages, and other solicitations.
Fashion as Revenue
At the suggestion of another of Messina’s advisers, Obama- themed merchandise has become a lucrative revenue source. Early on, Messina met, and was dazzled by, Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue and inspiration for “The Devil Wears Prada,” who created a spreadsheet to convince him that fashion could generate serious money for the campaign.
“What is the one thing everyone has from ’08? A T-shirt,” Messina says.
Wintour drew conservatives’ scorn for appearing in an online video soliciting donors for a fundraising dinner for the first couple with Sarah Jessica Parker.
Her influence actually runs much deeper. Last fall the campaign held a runway show in Manhattan to unveil a luxury clothing line by celebrity designers, including Vera Wang and Diane von Furstenberg.
Messina, whose own fashion sense borders on the tragic, was introduced on the runway by Scarlett Johansson. Republicans gleefully mock Obama’s designer collection as an exercise in narcissism, while the Romney campaign also sells merchandise, mostly the standard T-shirts, hats, and buttons.
Messina sees only the influx of millions of dollars -- although he won’t say how many millions. Sure, the $95 Thakoon Panichgul scarf and $75 Tory Burch tote bag are outlandish, yet they net a lot more than $10 Hanes T-shirts.
“Raise money, register voters, and persuade voters,” Messina says. “Everything has to feed into those three things.”
From the outside, it isn’t clear that will be enough. On June 7, the Romney campaign said it raised $76 million in May, topping Obama’s $60 million and marking the first time in five years that Obama had been outraised. Even with Spielberg’s input on the Bain ad, elite opinion was that it mostly flopped, after campaign surrogates, including Bill Clinton and Cory Booker, veered off message and commended Romney’s business record, to the delight of Republicans and cable news producers.
Messina is adamant that the Bain attack succeeded among the uncommitted voters he’s concerned with, who ignore pundits and are only now beginning to form opinions of Romney.
“When people say ‘How’s the Bain thing playing?’ it doesn’t matter what the set of Morning Joe has to say about it,” Plouffe says. “But if you’re a 45-year-old swing voter in Toledo, Ohio, what are you seeing? What’s in your local newspaper? What ads are running? And what’s going on in the local field operation? That’s what really matters.”
These voters will probably decide the election. All the technology, money, and management theory really amount to an elaborate, determined effort to discredit Romney and win their support. By virtue of his background, Messina may be especially well suited to that job.
Messina will go a long way to win, as the two leading stories from his Montana career suggest. Both involve the 2002 Senate race he ran for Baucus, a Democrat seeking re-election in a terrible year for Democrats.
To protect Baucus, Messina had him refuse to participate in any debate that didn’t also include a fringe third-party candidate who’d inadvertently dyed his skin blue with homemade antibiotics -- a guaranteed distraction.
The other story involved his Republican challenger, a state senator named Mike Taylor, who was the target of an ad so devastating it got national attention.
The ad charged Taylor with having embezzled student loans from a cosmetology school he’d owned in the 1980s. The ad’s force lay in the music and imagery. Set to a porn soundtrack, it featured snippets of an old television ad for Taylor’s hair salon that showed the candidate clad in a medallioned, open- shirted disco outfit, massaging lotion into another man’s face, and then appearing to reach toward the man’s crotch, as a narrator intoned, “Not the way we do business in Montana.”
“Jim is tough,” Baucus says. “I’ll never forget when he showed me that ad. We were in Bozeman in a motel. The curtains were drawn. He said, ‘Max, what do you think?’ They were afraid I wasn’t going to like it. I loved it!”
Humiliated, Taylor quit the race, and Baucus sailed to victory. “I found out quickly from Messina that there was no honor in politics,” Taylor says in an e-mail.
Starting out in Montana provided a broad education in all aspects of a campaign. A rural state with fewer than 1 million residents, Montana is so cheap even a legislative candidate on a $20,000 budget can run a sophisticated campaign with radio and television ads, direct mail, and phone banks.
Districts are small enough that candidates can, and are expected to, knock on every door. Messina became known as a “field guy” for his dogged emphasis on voter contact.
“It taught me very early on,” he says, “that you can win if you run good enough grassroots and you’re very clear about the differences with your opponent.”
Because Montana typically votes Republican for president, it’s often regarded as a red state. Still, it’s almost evenly divided between the parties.
“Politics here is competitive,” says Dave Hunter, a local consultant and early mentor to Messina. “Democrats usually perform at around 47 or 48 percent, so candidates have to run a little better campaign than Republicans to win statewide.”
The state also lacks a significant minority presence.
“We really don’t have African-Americans or a Hispanic population,” Hunter says. “You win in Montana by convincing white, independent voters to turn out for you. It’s good experience for presidential politics because it’s not about turning out your base; it’s about persuasion.”
Ten years later, Messina is trying to do the same thing, only at a much higher level. Montana is out of reach. Yet the seven states he’s targeted, as well as a few more he hopes won’t end up in play, all lie within striking distance of either candidate.
If the European crisis explodes or an attack on Iran drives up oil prices, the U.S. economy may tank and render moot all of Messina’s careful planning. Or the recovery could pick up steam, or the old gaffe-prone Romney could return and hand Obama an unexpectedly easy win.
A likelier scenario, though, is that the race will be close. Messina may see that happening.
“Jim has said to me, ‘This is the most important thing I will do in my lifetime,”’ says Penny Pritzker, the national finance chairwoman of the last campaign.
Should it come to that, Messina will have a chance to do what every campaign manager dreams of doing, what most Washington operatives brag about doing, and what only an elect few have ever actually done -- make the difference in a presidential election. Then, the CEOs will come to him for advice.
Messina Consults Jobs to Spielberg in Crafting Obama's Campaign - Bloomberg
- 06-14-2012, 01:43 PM #6
Steven Spielberg Behind Obama's Failed Bain Capital Attack
by John Nolte
Michael Barone is correct, Obama really needs to stop taking advice from wealthy, limousine liberals.
If you were looking for advice on how tell a story that would impact millions upon millions of people, would you go to a director whose last four films were "War Horse," "The Adventures of Tintin," Indiana Jones 4," and "Munich?"
But Team Obama did, and what they got in return was a continuation of the ongoing Spielberg flop-streak:
At DreamWorks Studios, Steven Spielberg spent three hours explaining how to capture an audience’s attention and offered a number of ideas that will be rolled out before Election Day. An early example of Spielberg’s influence is RomneyEconomics.com, a website designed by the Obama team to tell the story—a horror story, by their reckoning—of Mitt Romney’s career at Bain Capital. Afterward, Spielberg insisted that Messina sit down with the DreamWorks marketing team. Hollywood movie studios are expert, as presidential campaigns also must be, at spending huge sums over a few weeks to reach and motivate millions of Americans.Obama campaign advisor Jim Messina took the meeting and is adamant the Bain attacks worked, but then I'd like to know why the Bain attacks have stopped cold?
If something works, you keep doing it, correct?
What I find especially funny is that the film business, including, obviously, the failing venture that is DreamWorks, has been a quivering tower of risky financing, corporate welfare, and shady investment for decades now.
Spielberg's indignation of over Bain Capital is like water's indignation over wet.
Steven Spielberg Behind Obama's Failed Bain Capital Attack
- 06-16-2012, 06:45 PM #7
So much for objective researchers using Google.
Harvard ‘racism’ researcher neglected to disclose White House ties
The Harvard researcher behind a recent study correlating 2008 election results with racially charged Google searches neglected to disclose ties to a former senior member of the Obama administration, The Daily Caller has learned.
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, an economics Ph.D. candidate, lists on his C.V. — publicly available through his website — that he was the research assistant of Peter Orzsag at the Brookings Institution from August 2005 to August 2006. Set to graduate in 2013, Stephens-Davidowitz entered the Ph.D. program at Harvard in 2007.
Orszag, currently the vice chairman of Global Banking at Citigroup, headed the Office of Management and Budget as an Obama appointee between January 2009 and July 2010. He was also the director of the Congressional Budget Office from January 2007 to November 2008.
Whether this relationship between Stephens-Davidowitz and Orszag affected the outcome of the study, either directly or indirectly, is uncertain. Neither Stephens-Davidowitz or Orszag returned The Daily Caller’s request for comment.
“To my knowledge, Mr. Orszag has no idea of the contents of the study, nor do any of his former colleagues,” professor David Cutler, an adviser to Stephens-Davidowitz at Harvard, told The Daily Caller. “Seth wrote this paper at Harvard.”
Stephens-Davidowitz also thanked “three anonymous referees” along with various named sources in the first footnote of his study. Cutler, however, said that he believes Stephens-Davidowitz “appropriately thanks people who gave him advice on his paper.”
“Some people prefer not to be thanked, and he needs to respect their right to privacy,” Cutler added.
Using Google Insights for Search, Stephens-Davidowitz charted the percentage of searches between 2004-2007 that included the terms “******” or “******s” to gauge racist sentiment. Google Insights for Search is a program made publicly available by Google to allow users to gain comparative insights into search terms in various markets since 2004.
“I choose the most salient word,” he wrote in an explanatory piece in the New York Times. “I do not include data after 2007 to avoid capturing reverse causation, with dislike for Obama causing individuals to use racially charged language on Google.”
He then compared his results against the 2008 election results in various areas, explaining that the “conditions under which people use Google — online, most likely alone, not participating in an official survey — are ideal for capturing what they are really thinking and feeling.”
He found that areas where Obama “underperformed” — West Virginia, eastern Ohio, western Pennsylvania, upstate New York and southern Mississippi — were the regions with the highest rates of racially charged searches.
“If my findings are correct, race could very well prove decisive against Mr. Obama in 2012,” Stephens-Davidowitz said.
He also compared exit poll data between Massachusetts Democratic Sen. John Kerry from 2004 and Obama in 2008 to examine relative preference for each candidate by race.
“If states with high racially charged search were more likely to support Obama, independent of white’s racial attitudes, the effect would likely show up for both black and white voters in these states,” Stephens-Davidowitz wrote in the paper.
“Instead, there is no relationship between racially charged search and black support for Obama relative to Kerry; the relationship is entirely driven by white voters,” he continued.
In a footnote, however, he admitted to painting with a broad brush.
“Throughout this paper I refer to non-blacks, including Hispanics and Asians, rather imprecisely, as ‘whites,’” he said.