The estimates imply that racial animus in the United States cost Obama three to five percentage points in the national popular vote in the 2008 election.
The Google methodology is a viable way to grapple with people’s unwillingness to reveal racial prejudice in polls and surveys. Of course, one can criticize it—as Rebecca Greenfield does here—but an even better strategy is simply to see if Stephens-Davidowitz’s results are confirmed by recently published research using other kinds of measures. Here’s an example, from a recent paper in Political Psychology by political scientist Brian Schaffner (ungated; see also the rest of the issue, also ungated thanks to Wiley-Blackwell publishers):
In this paper, I introduce a relatively unobtrusive measure of racial salience to examine whether these initial interpretations are correct. I find that when race was a more salient factor for White voters, they were substantially less likely to vote for Obama and were more likely to think that Obama was focusing attention on African Americans during the campaign. I estimate that the salience of race for some Whites may have cost Obama as much as 3% of the White vote. Thus, this paper indicates that even in Obama’s historic 2008 campaign, African American candidates continue to face barriers to winning White support.