Infographic: State Stereotypes, From Fat Tennesseans To Liberal Californians

One researcher uses Google autocomplete to chart what Americans really think about “those people” in other states.

“In the months before a U.S. Presidential election, the quality of political discourse hits new lows,” Renee DiResta writes, pointing to the facile blue-state/red-state characterizations tumbling around the news cycle these days. “So I started wondering, how do Americans really think about ‘those people’ in other states?”

With that, DiResta, an associate at the seed-stage investment firm O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures, developed an interactive infographic that uses a simple web tool to reveal the most common stereotypes for each state. DiResta plugged “Why is [state] so” into Google, let autocomplete’s algorithms work their magic, then plotted the top hits on a map of the United States. “It seemed like an ideal question to get at popular assumptions, since ‘Why is [state] so X?’ presupposes that X is true,” she writes.

It’s intriguing enough to scan the map for autocomplete’s most popular stereotypes, some predictable (California is “so liberal,” Idaho is “so Republican”), others perhaps less so. Both Connecticut and Pennsylvania returned results for “so haunted.” Apparently those states encounter a lot of ghost sightings?

[The single-most common search term? “Boring.” It popped up 18 times in states across the country, from Idaho and Oregon to Connecticut to Maine.]

But DiResta took the concept a step further, and mapped Google’s results against real data to show whether the geographic stereotypes reflected in our Googling habits contain any kernel of truth. For instance, several states returned hits for some variation on “Why is [state] so fat.” So DiResta featured those results alongside obesity figures from the Centers for Disease Control. As you can see, there’s a fair measure of overlap, suggesting that our stereotypes about obesity do not materialize out of thin air:

[At left, Google autocomplete results for “healthy,” in green, and “fat” or “obese” in red; at right, official CDC data on obesity]

As for the general tenor of the hits: “There were a few redeeming positive results; Colorado, Minnesota, Texas, and Vermont are ‘awesome,’ and Montana, New Hampshire, and New York are ‘great,’” DiResta writes. “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.”

Surprise! We all hate each other.

[H/t Flowing Data]

About the author

Suzanne LaBarre is the editor of Co.Design. Previously, she was the online content director of Popular Science and has written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Newsday, I.D.