The 2015 State of the Union, by Google Autocomplete

What the world’s search engine tells us about the state of the American psyche. Hint: It is not “strong.”

A person prepares to search the internet using the Google search engine, on May 14, 2014, in Lille. In a surprise ruling on May 13, the EU's top court said individuals have the right to ask US Internet giant Google to delete personal data produced by its ubiquitous search engine. AFP PHOTO / PHILIPPE HUGUEN (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images)

What do Americans really want, and did the president give it to them?

Each year, the State of the Union address offers a field day to pundits and pollsters. They get paid to offer predictions, reviews, and analyses, but why not cut out the middlemen? If you want to put your finger right on the beating heart of America, go straight to Google Autocomplete.

Here’s how it works. Every day, millions upon millions of Americans type millions upon millions of queries into Google search engines, and Google uses a top-secret mystery algorithm to analyze all those search strings and identify the most common combinations of words. Then, when you start typing words into a Google search box, Google Autocomplete offers suggestions for how you might want to finish you search, based on what everyone else is searching for.

Think of it as the most meta of metadata. Pundits can lie to television audiences and television audiences can lie to pollsters, but no one lies to Google! You know it’s true: Google knows our fears and hopes. It maps our ignorance and knows our prejudices. When we’re all alone in the dark of the night, we turn to Google for answers.

Last year, I looked to Google Autocomplete to determine the true State of the Union. You can see last year’s results here (together with some technical information and caveats there as well). This year, I thought I’d offer Google most of the same search strings, plus a few more tailored to 2015. America, here’s what’s really on your mind.

(Italicized words are those I typed into Google’s search box; the words that follow are the results, in order, provided by Google AutoComplete. Or rather: the words that follow, my fellow Americans, are yours.)

Americans have their doubts about the president:

Is President Obama
A socialist?
A constitutional lawyer?
In a fraternity?
A Republican?

They’re not so sure about the United States or its future, either:

Why does America…
Hate communism?
Support Israel?
Hate Cuba?
Go to war?
Celebrate Thanksgiving?
Support other countries?
Care about ISIS?
Call it football?
Use metric?
Police the world?

Why is America
The greatest country?
Called America?
So fat?
In debt?
So religious?
So violent?
Fighting ISIS?
So stupid?

Why can’t America…
Be Sweden?
Have completely open borders?
Stop ISIS?
Care for the mentally ill?
Have universal health care?
Just print more money?
Export oil?

Will the U.S….
Go to war with Russia?
Economy collapse?
Go to war with ISIS?
Fall like Rome?
Have an Ebola outbreak?
Go to war with China?
Break up?
Be invaded?

They don’t know much about geography:

Is Iraq…
In Africa?
In Asia?
Sunni or Shia?
A country?
A democracy?
In Europe?
Safe to visit?
In the Middle East?

Is Syria…
Sunni or Shia?
A country?
In Africa?
A failed state?
A third-world country?
Fighting ISIS?
Safe to visit?

Is Afghanistan…
A country?
In Asia?
In the Middle East?
A third-world country?
A narco-state?
In South Asia?
In Afghanistan?
In Iraq?

Still, Americans are curious about the rest of the world. (Sort of.)

Does the rest of the world….
Celebrate Halloween?
Celebrate Thanksgiving?
Hate America?
Like Obama?
Have daylight savings?
Use military time?
Have tornados?
Have Black Friday?
Use common core math?

They wonder what those foreigners are up to:

Will China…
Be the next superpower?
Fight ISIS?
Invade Taiwan?
Rule the world?
Attack us?

Will Russia…
Attack us?
Invade Ukraine?
Fight ISIS?
Invade Poland?
Start World War 3?
Nuke America?

Will Europe….
Ever recover?
Ever unite?
Fall to Islam?
Censor this article?

Americans still worry about the economy:

Will the economy…
Collapse in 2015?
Ever get better?

Will the middle class…
Ever recover?
Pay for Obamacare?
Shake China?
Pay more taxes?

They’re not too confident in the government:

Is the government…
Lying about Ebola?
Watching me?
Behind Ebola?
Trying to kill us?
Controlling the weather?
Shut down?

To be fair, Americans are curious about some weird stuff.

Do cats purr?
Is my poop green?
Am I so tired?
Do dogs eat grass?
Do we dream?
Is the sky blue?
Are my eyes twitching?
Are gas prices dropping?
Do men cheat?
Am I always so tired?

How can I…
Make money fast?
Get taller?
Find my iPhone?
Get pregnant?
Get Ebola?
Tell which iPhone I have?
Ease the pain?

Sometimes, Google Autocomplete makes me feel pretty sorry for us, my fellow Americans.

Why am I…
So tired?
Always tired?
Always cold?
Always hungry?
So ugly?
So gassy?
Not losing weight?

Will I…
Ever get married?
Get Ebola?
Ever be good enough?
Ever find love?

But there’s still hope.

But as President Obama said in his State of the Union Speech, “A brighter future is ours to write.”

My fellow Googlers, you know what to do.

See you next year, Autocomplete.


Rosa Brooks is a law professor at Georgetown University and a senior fellow with the New America/Arizona State University Future of War Project. She served as a counselor to the U.S. defense undersecretary for policy from 2009 to 2011 and previously served as a senior advisor at the U.S. State Department.

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