In our first post on American Community Survey estimates in Wolfram|Alpha, we showed you how Wolfram|Alpha could answer questions about the age and sex of the population in practically any town or region in the United States. But that’s only a small fraction of what we can do with this wealth of detailed demographic data. Over the next few weeks, we’ll also share some examples of how Wolfram|Alpha can help you find and analyze information about education, income, and more.

But first, let’s take a look at two of the most frequently asked for demographic topics in Wolfram|Alpha: race and Hispanic origin. If you’ve never done so before, it’s worth taking a moment to brush up on the difference between these two concepts, in Census terminology. Although people often lump the two concepts together, race and Hispanic origin are two completely separate attributes in Census data: a person can be of any race and also be of Hispanic or non-Hispanic origin. Even with the basic data we’ve had in Wolfram|Alpha since its launch, people have regularly complained that our numbers “don’t add up”—and it’s always because they’ve added Hispanic population estimates to figures for the population by race and ended up with a figure larger than the country’s total population.

So let’s jump in with a simple query. Ask Wolfram|Alpha, “What fraction of the population is black in US states?* and you’ll see that the median population fraction is just under 7%, but the distribution is pretty wide: less than 1% of the population in Montana is black or African American, but nearly 40% of Mississippi’s population is. Dig a little deeper into Mississippi’s data, and you’ll discover that there’s a fairly large distribution within the state: the black population of Mississippi congressional districts ranges from about 23% in Mississippi’s 4th district to more than two-thirds of the total population of the 2nd district—which happens to be the home of the state’s only Democratic US congress person.

Black population of Mississippi congressional districts

With elections looming in November, this is one area where Wolfram|Alpha should be able to provide some useful context and analysis, particularly when it comes to understanding past election outcomes or predicting this year’s results. Media outlets like The New York Times are already drawing up their maps of battleground states, and that’s as good a place as any to start asking questions about the impact of various demographic groups on presidential and congressional races. You can use Wolfram|Alpha to try to understand where the senior vote might have the most impact in Florida, for example. Or you might look closer at the specific origin of the Hispanic population in Florida—increasingly split between Hispanics of Cuban origin (who have traditionally voted Republican) and other groups, such as Puerto Ricans, who tend to favor Democratic candidates.

Senior citizen population fraction of  Florida counties

Of course, there are some interesting demographic comparisons to uncover just by playing around with the data. Consider the significant differences in origin for the Hispanic populations of Santa Fe, New York City, and Miami. Or the massive disparity in the black population of Cook County school districts. Remember that this data is available for almost every city, school district, county, congressional district, metropolitan area, and state in the US, so there’s a virtually limitless number of questions you can ask about these topics. Let us know what you uncover!

Hispanic population fraction of Santa Fe, New York City, and Miami

*Note that for larger analytical queries like this, you might see a “computation timed out” message at the bottom of your result. This happens when Wolfram|Alpha’s servers can’t finish computing some additional summary pods on the fly within a specified time limit. If you refresh your browser, they’ll probably appear—or you can always get additional computing time with a subscription to Wolfram|Alpha Pro.

1 Comment

This is a very valuable addition to W|A, and must certainly improve the quality of the discourse on race and politics here in the States.

Posted by bernard June 11, 2012 at 8:59 am Reply
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