MaddowColbert vs. FoxLimbaugh, Google edition

The Internet’s political echo chambers, red states and blue states, fennel salad and home abortion methods.

The debate goes on about whether online political chatter opens minds more than it closes doors to people with opposing views — with growing concern about how corporate filtering by services like Google and Facebook increasingly serve us what our own behavior tells them we want (and do us the favor of keeping out what we probably don’t like).

As Amy Harmon observed in the NY Times way back in 2004, “The same medium that allows people to peruse a near-infinite number of news sources also lets them pinpoint the ones they want and filter out the rest.” It’s information versus isolation. (The recent poll showing Fox News viewers were the least well-informed on a variety of current news stories was taken as evidence that the network was draining knowledge from its audience, but they probably know less before they decide to watch Fox in the first place.)

Because of the winner-take-all mechanism in our electoral politics, states are described as “red” or “blue” according to how their majorities vote. With regard to family patterns, more nuanced analysis shows that the patterns are not just regional, but also urban/rural/suburban, religious, and so on. But, Google Correlate gives us search data by states, so with the caveat that states contain diverse populations, look at this…

Stereotype, show thyself

Searches for Maddow, Colbert, Limbaugh, and Fox News, by state, with correlations between them shown (on a scale of -1 to 1):

I previously showed that divorce rates are positively correlated with searches for “tea party” and negatively correlated with Obama’s 2008 vote. Not surprisingly, these searches are correlated with political outcomes as well. I combined Maddow+Colbert and Limbaugh+FoxNews, and subtracted one from the other, creating an index that runs from a high of 6.0 in Vermont to a low of -6.0 in Mississippi. This lines up quite well with the 2008 vote:

That’s not the result I’m interested in, but just a little validation for the more squishy cultural stuff that accompanies these media-politics searches. Do they really reflect the search habits of conservative versus liberal voters? I can’t say, but I like looking over the lists and thinking about it.

Using the ColbertMaddow-FoxNewsLimbaugh index, I asked Google correlate which 100 searches were most common in the states with high index values but least common in those with low values. Then I rescaled it backwards to get the reverse results. So the first list is items searched for in the high-liberal-media states, and the second list is those in the high-conservative-media states. Here are the food-related correlations (all at .88 or higher).


  • arugula pasta [I’m not making these up -pnc]
  • beets nutrition
  • beets urine
  • cauliflower pasta
  • cheese health
  • darjeeling express
  • fake meat
  • fennel salad
  • firm tofu
  • gianduja
  • kitchen confidential
  • muesli
  • mushroom risotto
  • nicoise
  • pasta pesto
  • poached chicken
  • puree
  • risotto
  • tea caffeine
  • tea wiki
  • tea wikipedia
  • top chef season 8
  • vegan bags
  • vegan cupcakes
  • vegan dessert
  • vegetarian
  • vegetarian cooking
  • vegetarian food
  • vegetarian recipe

The conservative list has no real foods, just things about dieting:

  • acai berry diet
  • acaitrim
  • berry diet
  • carbs list
  • p90x results
  • prescription weight loss
  • prescription weight loss pills
  • weight loss pills

The lists support other stereotypes, like the liberal-state penchant for searching “french movie,” “chomsky” and “lost in translation,” versus conservative political mean-spiritedness (“obama jokes”), lack of sex education  (“how soon can you tell if you are pregnant”) and reproductive health care (“home abortion methods”) and, finally, marital problems:

  • how to make a marriage work
  • how to save a marriage
  • how to save my marriage
  • save a marriage

It’s interesting to think about the central place of food in distinguishing the cultural milieu that includes politics — at least those that include these media. That food list is about 1/3 of the liberal correlation terms. Are food habits and terms codes for political views, or are they both aspects of similar world views? Someone must do research on this.

There are lots of other media terms you could use for this. I tried Hannity as well, but decided it was too fringy — and really thrown off by the huge number in Utah. One search from that list jumped out at me: “how long is the first trimester.”

Anyway, the disclaimer from my Stuff White People Google post applies here as well:

In case you’re prepared to be offended, remember this does not mean this is most of what these groups search for, or most of the searches in these areas. Rather, it’s the things that are searched for in these states that are not searched for in other states. So, people in all groups search for porn and shopping and restaurant reviews and health conditions — but these are the things that differentiate the states.

The complete lists of searches correlated with the liberal and conservative indexes are in this PDF. Feel free to question my interpretations and examples.


Filed under In the news, Me @ work

12 responses to “MaddowColbert vs. FoxLimbaugh, Google edition

  1. Now I feel oddly self-conscious that I have a recipe for pasta with arugula. But for the record, it is perfectly tasty.


  2. Ron

    Interesting that how when clicking on the Run button (or whatever it’s called) you “asked Google” to correlate the variables instead of *telling* Google to run the correlation.


  3. Jeremy

    Very interesting post and correlations. Thanks for sharing.

    I was recently doing research on social movements and came across this study:

    Hayes-Conroy, A and D G Martin. 2010. Mobilising bodies: Visceral identification in the slow food movement. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 35 (2): 269-281.

    The authors acknowledge a relationship between our bodies and brains/minds, then analyze how food consumed by the body affects social activism.


    • Ron

      Cauliflower pasta gives one the urge to sit , unwashed, in a tent with other like-minded folk while dreaming wistfully of Che’ Guevara?


  4. Reichl is a food term. Sort of like arugula.
    OK, food is divisive. But I wonder if music is whatever the opposite of divisive is. I picture two women, one with her mushroom risotto, the other with her home abortion kit, sharing an iPod to hear . . . (I don’t know, Beyonce?)


  5. mark

    Alabama has a county named “Colbert” – in case you were wondering why the state had such a strong showing for the term.


    • Rats — thank you; I couldn’t figure that out. I thought Colbert was a pretty clean term (better than Stewart, e.g.), but that’s a problem. I should drop Alabama and redo this. Or, my assistant should. If I had one.


  6. amv

    Check out Google insights for search, it’s got some fun Widgets in this regard.


  7. Pingback: Google correlations review « Family Inequality

  8. Pingback: Social class and fertility: Anti-Darwinian selection and a barren middle class? | Family Inequality

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