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):
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.