Guns dividing America (Google edition)

Whenever I get a good indicator broken down by state, I head over to Google Correlate to see how it connects to America’s search behavior. Often what I find is a gun connection. This is very big in searches related to the election, so I’ll start with that before giving a couple other examples.

Odds of Romney winning

Taking yesterday’s New York Times 538 forecast chance of Mitt Romney winning each state, I entered the numbers into the search correlation machine. As you can see from the map on the left, these are very polarized numbers, with 42 of the states being above 90% or below 10%. Of the 100 Google searches whose relative frequency is most correlated with this pattern across states, 31 are about guns. Here is the search most correlated (.82) with Romney’s odds of winning: “marlin 30-30,” which is a classic rifle (available at Walmart):

Unintentional deaths

News the other day was about the lives lost to unintentional injuries for people under age 20 — the most common causes of death in that age range. About half of this is from motor vehicle accidents, with most of the rest distributed between drowning, suffocating, fires, falls, and poisoning. The CDC put out a report that included a state breakdown, reported in terms of “years of potential life lost” per 100,000 population. That is just the number of deaths times the number of years between the age at which the death occurred and age 75 (so a death at age 1 is 74 years lost, a death at age 19 is 56).

The big inequalities here are in gender and geography. Males are about 1.8-times more likely to die from this stuff. And the most dangerous state (Mississippi) has more than 4-times the losses of the safest (Massachusetts). There are race differences as well — with American Indians having high rates — but the Black/White difference is not that large (Latino ethnicity wasn’t identified).

How are these rates of lost life correlated with search behavior? Guns. Among the 100 searches that most closely follow the pattern of deaths, 62 were about guns, starting with number 1: “shotgun for sale,” with a correlation of .93.

There were also 14 searches about cars and trucks on the list (mostly Ford F150s and Chevy trucks), four about wedding dresses and rings (“discount wedding dresses”) and three about Fox News.


I did this twice with divorce rates. Using the 2008-2009 divorce rates per 1,000 married women, I found a good gun correlation with gun searches, with “colt .45 automatic” scoring a .86:

There were 27 more gun-related searches on that 08-09 divorce-correlation list. I updated that for the new 2011 rates, and again came up with a list of gun-related searches (and other military or survivalist stuff). Here is the Norinco SKS and 2011 divorce rates, correlation .84:

Someone who knows more than me could probably read more into the searches for different kinds of guns and gun-related stuff — for example, the difference between sniper accessories, shotguns and handguns. These different gun results show variations in their geographic patterns.

Anyway, I can’t think of what else besides search data tells us so much about so many people’s behavior — not their stated interests, their reported behavior, their tax forms, or their consumption patterns. And yet I can’t really put my finger on what it does tell us. It’s a million miles wide and not that deep, but it’s endlessly fascinating. If someone can figure out how to explain the value of what this all shows, I’m all ears.

13 thoughts on “Guns dividing America (Google edition)

  1. So they Google search for guns, yet die from motor vehicle accidents, … drowning, suffocating, fires, falls, and poisoning?

    Maybe guns aren’t that relatively dangerous after all?


    1. Homicides aren’t included, just unintentional deaths – and that’s where most of the gun deaths are. Accidental gun deaths are included, under “other.” There aren’t that many of those compared with the other causes.


  2. I think it’s safe to suppose that in states that more heavily favor guns, there is less of a valuation on life, and more social/familial dysfunction. But that’s opinion, not science 🙂


      1. Sorry, I don’t see the connection. I meant that in today’s world voting Republican isn’t simply a political point of view — considering that conservatives of any sense (and conservatives worldwide) repudiate the party and its (at best) illogical platform. Add that the evident fact that Republican support depends in large part on the votes of people of middle and lower income — who obviously are voting against their own economic interests — and I can only conclude that these states suffer some kind of collective emotional / political malaise affecting a statistically significant percentage of the population.

        While I don’t at all object to hunting for food, I think a fascination with guns might logically accompany such a malady as I’m postulating. Colt .45s aren’t used in hunting, nor is the Norinco SKS. It seems obvious to me that searching for Soviet assault rifles is likely to be a symptom of some kind of unhealthy behavior.


      2. Sorry, I don’t see the connection.

        Let me be more specific: is wasting food a Good or a Bad Thing to do?

        (Phil, knowing statistics as he does, should be able to compute the likelihood of someone dieing from eating adequately-cooked meat, and so acknowledge that Rachel Rattray is acting irrationally.

        who obviously are voting against their own economic interests

        I’ve read that so often from leftists that I can only conclude that it’s some Marxist dogma that economics is the “be all and end all” of life?

        But even if it were, and do-all government is the Flying Spaghetti Monster’s gift to all mankind, why did the Warsaw Pact countries collapse?

        Why is Greece on the precipice of collapse?

        as I’m postulating. Colt .45s aren’t used in hunting, nor is the Norinco SKS.

        Rethink your postulate.

        Sidearms are frequently carried when hunting in “moose country” and in areas where feral pigs are known to live. (If one of them charges you from close range, it’s easier to pull a pistol than swing around a rifle.)

        I know for a fact that the SKS is perfectly adequate at dropping deer from 100 yards.

        It seems obvious to me that searching for Soviet assault rifles is likely to be a symptom of some kind of unhealthy behavior.

        What a stick in the mud… 😦

        Things that go bang, things that growl really loudly (large engines, for example), things that splatter mud everywhere, things that go fast, and especially if it happens in proximity to pretty girls wearing revealing clothing IS FUN!!!! Really, really fun!


  3. I still don’t see the relevance of the meat conversation.

    But my question to you: Why do you think the fun of things that go bang (and sometimes involve arterial bleeding) correlates to Republicanism?


    1. Correlation to Republicanism? None.

      You, though, are the one who said that guns correlates to “less of a valuation on life”.

      So, I wonder about the correlation between (1) desiring to feed homeless people and (2) unquestioningly tossing out 4 million servings of meat.


      1. But, according to Google, there IS a correlation, if you read Philip’s article. Do you have any thoughts as to the cause?


Comments welcome (may be moderated)

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

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

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google 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 )

Connecting to %s