Why are Americans so…

Renee DiResta, the name behind the “No Upside” blog recently posted this article, which you should read, and actually check out the original here because it is interactive and interesting:

A map of American state stereotypes, generated by Google auto-complete.

In the months before a US Presidential election, the quality of political discourse hits new lows. Blue State/Red State tropes dominate the news cycle as the media gins up outrage over perceived injustices in the culture wars. It’s all about our differences. So I started wondering, how do Americans really think about “those people” in other states? What are the most common stereotypes? For each of the fifty states and DC, I asked Google: “Why is [State] so ” and let it autocomplete. It seemed like an ideal question to get at popular assumptions, since “Why is [State] so X?” presupposes that X is true.

 [Click here to see the original story and interactive map. Google hits for Oregon include…liberal, weird, rainy and boring. Ouch!]

The map above displays the results – just hover over the states. Most of the terms are about what we’ll call “culture,” or about the weather. Politics and economics also figure prominently.

A fair number of queries were factual inquiries: “Why is Iowa so important in the presidential election?” “Why is Delaware so business friendly?” Terms dealing with cost of living (“expensive”,”cheap”, etc.) showed up in a number of states. Weight was also a common query; people wonder why Alabama and Oklahoma are so obese, while Colorado and Vermont apparently have a reputation for being healthy. I compared some of those search terms to actual data in the images below.

Cheap (green) vs Expensive Cost of Living
Healthy (green) vs Overweight Obesity Ranking

The qualitative searches were most interesting to me. There are 12 unique terms that are classifiable as “culture/sentiment” queries, of which ten are negative: backwards, bad, boring, crazy, dangerous, hated, racist, stupid, trashy, weird. There were a few redeeming positive results; Colorado, Minnesota, Texas, and Vermont are “awesome,” and Montana, New Hampshire, and New York are “great.” But for the most part, it doesn’t seem like we think very nice things about each other…at the very least, we’re more inclined to search for articles supporting (or related to) negative biases.

Boring.

The single most common result of all was “boring,” which appeared for 18 states with no particular regional concentration. Other popular terms (returned for >10 states) were “humid”, “windy”, “expensive”, and “liberal”. Strangely, Connecticut and Pennsylvania both returned “haunted”; apparently there are a lot of ghost sightings (and related walking tours). My favorite result of all was “enchanting”: New Mexico is beautiful.

State pride!

Only a few states returned suggested results for demonym queries. People search specificially for New Yorkers (so rude! so arrogant!), Californians (so weird), and Texans (so proud), but no one asks about Iowans or Kansans. I thought this was interesting; the states that returned results for demonyms are the ones that seem to be most outspoken about state pride, but that could be my own New York bias showing. In the handful of states that do return demonym results, “rude” and “stupid” are the most common queries. Obesity concerns appear a number of times as well (and were rolled into the obesity map above). “Orange” appears exactly once – I’ll let you guess which state.

Anyway, I thought the results were interesting…so there they are.

Rigorous methodology: The data set is Google auto-complete results for “Why is [insert state] so “. I took up to four results per state – one or two states didn’t even have four results – then grouped the results by term. I categorized the terms into buckets: economic, geographic, health, history, political, population, sports, weather, and “culture/sentiment”. The latter was a bit of a catch-all for ‘judgey terms’, ranging from “awesome” to “boring” to “racist.” Sometimes the classification wasn’t immediately obvious; for example, “Why is Alabama so good?” is pretty vague, so I followed the query through to the results, and determined it was most likely sports-related. (“Why is New Jersey so bad?”, however, was not about sports.) Your search results may vary (due to past search history, region, autocomplete results changing due to news events, and other factors). I did run these in both Incognito mode and regular mode, and the vast majority of results were identical. If you’d like the raw data, contact me.

Thank you to my husband, Justin, for all of the help w/the Charts API.

3 thoughts on “Why are Americans so…

  1. This was interesting. Same test for Western Europe.
    Top 3 results in Google

    Why is Germany so rich, strong, awesome?
    Why is France so popular, gay, dependent on nuclear power?
    Why is Luxembourg so rich, wealthy, small?
    Why is Belgium so boring, expensive, populated?
    Why is Holland so flat, liberal, good at soccer?

    Why is Ireland so green, expensive, religoius?
    Why is England so depressing, cold, cloudy?
    Why is Scotland so wet, violent, crap?
    Why is Wales so rubbish, wet, poor?
    Why is the UK so powerful, expensive, cloudy?

    Why is Portugal so poor, important to exploration, popular?
    Why is Spain so good at soccer, racist, good at football?
    Why is Andora so small?

    Why is Switzerland so expensive, rich, prosperous?
    Why is Austria so wealthy?
    Why is Liechenstein so rich, wealthy, small?

    Why is Italy so popular, corrupt, dirty?
    Why is Vatican City so densly populated, important, famous?
    Why is Monaco so densely populated, expensive, rich?
    Why is San Marino so bad, expensive?

    Why is Denmark so expensive, happy rich?
    Why is Sweden so ausome, expensive, liberal?
    Why is Norway so expensive, rich, happy?
    Why is Finland so good at education, happy, expensive?

    Enough for now. If you like this I can add Eastern Europe.

  2. Pingback: MIssed Connections… | living the american dream in europe

  3. Pingback: Maps, politics, global warming and cultural perspective | living the american dream in europe

I love comments and feedback, so leave me some.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s