Texas is a Swing State — says Google

The wisdom (and folly) of Google search results

There’s been a lot of talk recently about online polls. Trump supporters point to them to indicate that the buzz around their candidate is real, and hope it will correlate into actual results. Others have noted that online polls are virtually meaningless, because people can vote multiple times and self-selected groups can become echo chambers for supporters of one side.

Well, let’s argue, for a second, that the mind of the online mob is useful, and take conduct an informal “poll” of various statements about the 2016 election. I asked these statements to Google and decided that a higher number of results returned meant the statement had more…truthiness.

Side note: This is one of the worst ways to determine anything. For example, the wisdom of Google Search Results will tell you that “Vaccines Cause Autism”, that “Ted Cruz is the Zodiac Killer”, that “Hillary is a Lizard Person”, and that “Trump is Chinese” (but not Canadian). Just because a phrase is popular, or said many times by an influential person, does not make it true.

With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s take a look at how the world works, through the lens of Google’s Search Results:

1. Texas is a Swing State

Top 10 Results for “[State] is a Swing State”

The map of swing states at the top of this post isn’t terribly inaccurate — Ohio and Florida do feature prominently as kingmakers in our electoral system.

Other states that are semi-notable include Wisconsin, West Virginia, and New Mexico (former swing states which have turned more reliably blue or red in recent elections), and states where the current demographic trends may lead to potential swing state status in the future (Michigan and Georgia).

But why is Texas listed as the #3 Swing State?

Probably because, though it’s far from the truth, the headline “Texas is a Swing State” piques a lot of peoples’ interest (it might even be why you clicked on this post!).

People like speculating about future large changes to the traditional model. One of those alternatives is “What if Texas went blue?” (which it hasn’t since 1960). Another is usually “What if New York went red?”, echoed by Donald Trump Jr’s comment at the RNC, that they were going to “put New York into play this time around”, even though that’s incredibly unlikely this year.

2. Texas is One of the Most Liberal States

Don’t laugh.

On first glance, this map (minus Texas) seems pretty somewhat accurate. The West Coast, a few states in the Northeast, the Progressive strongholds of Minnesota and Wisconsin, and the newer blue boom state of Colorado.

So why is Texas on that map — and featured so prominently? It’s possible that this map reflects commentators’ pre-occupation with Texas as an electoral target for Democrats. But it’s also possible that people write about Texas because Texas is not as uniformly Republican as some people believe.

Texas county map in 2012

Many parts of Texas are reliably blue (and perhaps getting bluer) — such as the college town of Austin, and the Rio Grande Valley in the South.

As you can see on this map of the 2012 election results in Texas by county, as you travel South in Texas, the uniform red squares give way to a checkerboard of red and blue counties.

While this definitely doesn’t mean that a Democratic Texas is in our near future, the prospect could fuel the fires of speculation for the foreseeable future.

3. Oklahoma is the most conservative state

At first glance, this map seems pretty accurate. A 2014 Gallup survey constructed a similar map of conservatism in America. Perhaps the key difference is that Google’s search results tend to emphasize differences in relation to neighbors.

New Hampshire is probably not more conservative than North Dakota, but it is more right-leaning than neighboring Vermont and Massachusetts. Indiana is probably less right-leaning than Wyoming, but is more often compared to Michigan, Illinois, and Ohio.

With the exceptions of Texas and Rhode Island, the case could be made for any of these states.

Using these results, I constructed a composite map of Google Results— where states are shaded according to the percent of Google Results saying that it is a liberal or conservative state.

With the exceptions of Texas and (surprisingly) Rhode Island, the case for this map being accurate could definitely be made for any of these states.

4. Donald Trump will be President…

Perhaps surprisingly, Donald Trump has more than a 2-to-1 margin in Google Search Results over his opponent Hillary Clinton — a strange outcome for a candidate that has argued that Google is suppressing search results to influence the election.

Why do we get this result? Possibly because Donald Trump is such an anomalous dark horse candidate, a disproportionate number of articles focus on how his candidacy could actually succeed.

The other surprise is that Jill Stein has more results for “[Candidate] will be President” than either Libertarian Gary Johnson or Utah Independent Evan McMullin.

I have no real speculation as to why that might be happening, except that perhaps even Gary Johnson’s most ardent supporters don’t think he stands a chance of winning.

4. …Unless Michelle Obama throws her hat into the ring.

Including Michelle Obama as an option.

After Michelle’s several well-received speeches this year, the speculation that she could make a Presidential run reached a fevered pitch.

If only. The Internet would be ecstatic.

Data Sources

Google Spreadsheet: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1k-xD3wllByGPxW_-p_DwWJOFnn8XyZwChz1FC_sO8Aw/edit?usp=sharing