The top five most-searched states are, in order, California, Texas, Florida, Illinois and Pennsylvania. And to answer Tyler Cowen’s original question, the bottom five states, in descending order, are Idaho, Vermont, North Dakota, South Dakota, and, at the absolute bottom of the 50-state barrel: Wyoming.
And searches relative to population?:
You can see that the biggest overperformer is, oddly enough, Alabama — it’s the 24th most populous state, but the 15th most frequently-searched state. It’s hard to say what’s driving the discrepancy, but Google’s data offer some clues. For instance, Google’s nifty Correlate tool shows that many Alabama-related searches have to do with sports scores and events — perhaps tied to the popularity of college sports at the University of Alabama. Or, there may be something unique about the state the causes its residents to use the state’s name in Google searches more often — searching for rules and regulations on things like drivers’ licenses and the like.
Other big overperformers include Hawaii and Alaska, Colorado and Connecticut.
On the other side of the ledger, the state that appears to generate the lowest amount of search interest relative to its size is Indiana.
…Louisiana, West Virginia, New Mexico and Idaho also are considerably under-searched compared to their population.
Separately, I received this email from a loyal MR reader:
I am following your most-obscure-state series with some fascination. However, I think the approach is a bit off, because in many cases small states are less obscure than larger ones. Rhode Island is not obscure precisely because most know of it as the smallest state. And even small states produce outlier individuals that elevate their states’ prominence. Rather, I think you should look at obscurity on a per-capita basis — that is, what state is disproportionately obscure compared to its population, economic footprint, &c.I would suggest Indiana. Our 16th-most-populous state, Indiana is nonetheless relatively obscure for its size.Consider:
- Indiana is overshadowed by many of its larger neighbors; northwestern Indiana is part of Chicagoland; southeast Indiana is tied to the Cincinnati and Louisville areas.
- The best-known historical political figures identified with Indiana are Benjamin Harrison and Dan Quayle — neither well-known.
- Indiana has far fewer Fortune 500 companies based there than any neighbor except Kentucky (and only one more than Kentucky). Indiana’s big firms tend to be major industrial companies like Eli Lilly and Cummins, important but not consumer-facing and thus contributing to obscurity.
- Indiana is a major producer of many products, agricultural commodities and mineral resources, but it is the top producer of few, and so doesn’t gain prominence for them (in the way that people associate dairy with Wisconsin or cars with Michigan).
- Indiana has only one large city, and it’s the 34th-largest U.S. metro area with about 2 million people. States of similar size tend either have much larger metro areas or they have multiple Indianapolis-sized metros.
- Indiana is not especially diverse — 85% white, and few prominent foreign ethnic minorities concentrated there.
- In education, Indiana’s best known big school is Notre Dame, which due to its Catholic heritage is not especially associated in the public mind with the state. Purdue is a strong school but ranked 61 by US News — lower than you might expect for a flagship in a state Indiana’s size.
- Indiana is a place where a lot of notable people are from but where few stay. Think John Roberts, Allan Bloom, Sydney Pollack, Steve McQueen, Kurt Vonnegut, Joseph Stiglitz, Paul Samuelson. (Indiana’s proximity to Chicago contributes to its obscurity by sucking away some of its greatest talents.)
Sports and culture are probably the only arena in which Indiana escape obscurity In sports, this is due to the Hoosier basketball tradition, Larry Bird, Bob Knight, John Wooden, and the Indy 500.Culturally, Indiana has produced several highlights. In music, the Jackson 5 are indelibly associated with Indiana. The novels of Booth Tarkington stand out. Cole Porter was born and raised there. The Gaither gospel singers are from and based in Indiana. Vonnegut’s God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, a minor classic, is set there. Ben-Hur author Lew Wallace was a lifelong Indianan. Indiana has produced some strong comics — Red Skelton, David Letterman, Jim Gaffigan — although they are not popularly associated with Indiana. Jim Davis of Garfield is from there. Films and TV shows set there? Hoosiers, Breaking Away, Rudy, Parks and Recreation.
…Despite these strong points, the relatively large size of Indiana weighs against them and leaves Indiana the most obscure state on a per-capita basis.Thanks — I continue to enjoy this series and am looking forward to your posts on Rhode Island and Delaware.