Saturday, November 8, 2008

Political Geography in the 2008 Election

"We are not nor have we ever been a collection
of red states and blue states.
We are, and always will be,
the United States of America.

Well maybe. But that doesn't make us purple states either.
Excluding Alaska and Hawaii, this is the image our Electoral College painted in 2008:
A cartogram is a map in which some thematic mapping variable is substituted for land area. The geometry or space of the map is distorted in order to convey the information of this alternate variable.

In a cartogram cast by Mark Newman, in which the sizes of states are rescaled according to their population, the Electoral College appears differently.
That is, states are drawn with size proportional not to their acreage but to the number of their inhabitants, states with more people appearing larger than states with fewer, regardless of their actual area on the ground.
Thus Rhode Island, appears about twice the size of Wyoming, which is 60 times the acreage of Rhode Island. Thusly (click to enlarge):
Looking at a county-by-county map which reflects percentages (not winner-take-all) of results, our USA looks like this (click to enlarge):But if you display counties by population instead of acreage, you get quite a different image (click to enlarge):

I'm not sure how others would characterize this, but I wouldn't call it a United America.


  1. I'd call it a beautiful and peaceful blue democracy being strangled by red autocrats. Only, I'm not sure it's politics. It may be pathology.

  2. That last map looked like a phoenix rising. I remain guardedly hopeful.

  3. I'm with Utah - the last representation of our nation's 2008 vote DOES suggest a bird gathering its wings to soar in glorious, wondrous flight - a phoenix rising indeed! What an hopeful metaphor for how Tuesday evening felt to so very many of us who feel as if we are emerging from an eight years (or more) looooooooooooooong nightmare of depression and despair.

    A cautionary note: as Barack said: we are NOT at the mountain top - we are at the bottom, looking up (with hopefulness, thanks to him! - but NOT atop the mountain by a long shot).

    Let's remember that if we, as a phoenix-like-nation, are to truly soar, we must BE together; we must remain aware, involved, and committed to HELPING Obama govern. - We cannot afford the luxury of wishing and/or demanding that Obama be our "perfect" President. Perfection is IMPOSSIBLE for anyone to achieve, even our President-elect! And that is our reality no matter the many gifts of personality and intelligence that Obama brings to his Presidency.

    We MUST pull together, be thankful for WHO he is and how he conducted himself in his campaign, and welcome the passage of "Good Enough" legislation. We citizens MUST refuse to behave as too many egotistically driven obstructionists in the Democratic party did during the Clinton years.

  4. I see mostly blue and purple, and I do find an organic web of unity in the county by county images--especially the last one. The red web is literally connected, but the blue/purple sea is ever-present. Great image, thanks!! Thanks the inspirational words Emily.

  5. Yeah, I have to throw in here that in every blood red republican pocket is a few blues and in every dark blue Democratic pocket is a few reds. But I've actually found that most at least semi-educated people don't fit simply in either category walking lock step with party dogma. That the arch conservative at times has had major issues with screwed up healthcare forcing him/her to make painful choices and knows something major will have to be done by the government. And that the an ultra liberal can sometimes be found that enjoys hunting and feels the Second Amendment is needed so he/she can protect the home. You can insert any number of different examples of how red bleeds into blue and blue bleeds into red because life never follows a simple pattern and forces people into situations that can and dones break them into different mindsets.
    So while the maps are pretty and do offer real data this is still the United States of America.

  6. We most assuredly have always been a country of "Red," and "Blue" people.

    At one time they were called "Slaves," and "Slave owners," or "Settlers," and "Native Americans," or the "Educated," and the "Morbidly Stupid," etc, etc.

    Visit Wingnuttia sometime, and see if they're talking about "Peace," or "Harmony," or walking off into the sunset arm in arm.

    My biggest concern is that many Americans seem to believe the war is over, when, in reality, it hasn't even really begun.

    The Loons are not going anywhere. In fact, they're angrier than ever.

  7. I find this whole discussion rather distrubing and virtually totally invalid.

    Why aren't we all just people?

    My little county in central Misissippi voted just barely in favor of John McCain. But the county was nearly even (it always is). It could have easily gone for Obama.

    The fact is that every county, even every neighborhood has people that voted for McCain and people that voted for Obama. And (nearly) none of them were "bad" people or "loons." They are my friends and neighbors.

    We mostly attend the same schools and same churches. We mostly have the same goals for our local governments and our communities. We have the same dreams and hope for the future.

    And, based on my experience with my breakfast group yesterday morning (which is, as you all know, about 70% Republican), everyone supports Barack Obama even though most voted for McCain. They are all excited about the new President.

    The same is true in your community, whether is bright red or deep blue. We really are one country.

  8. With the rorschach test with which the Vigilant One has presented his readers, I favor the eloquent statements of Emily and the Carolina Parrothead over the pessimistic history of Fairlane.

  9. When I posted, I had not noticed Wizard's statement. Of course, I include him.

  10. I think Wizard has a point. Joe the Plumber is a red guy but he lives in a blue state. (Ohio, right?) But Joe the Plumber is the guy who kicked off this big to-do about Barack Obama wanting to share the wealth. "Socialism", echoed Palin and the Red-Staters. Ironically, it is the Blue states who pay more into the IRS than they get out and the Red states who get more in federal spending than they pay into the IRS. The most rabidly anti-socialist states are the biggest beneficiaries, Comrade Palinoski's Alaska ranking 5th!

    Look at this 2004 map.

    "For everyone to whom much is given, of him shall much be required." -- Luke 12:48

    It would be a decent thing, for the sake of national unity, that the Red welfare states stop yelping 'socialism'.

  11. What I think you are saying Soros, is

    If this be Socialism, then ALL of us Americans should make the most of it.

    I trust Patrick Henry would have a smile on his face if it caused him to roll over.

  12. Here's another map from the NYT, posted by MadMike, which depicts the voting trends geographically between 2004-2008. Very instructive.

  13. Yes, Utah. A phoenix rising: that's perfect. We have a long fight, but for the first time in eight long years (and more if you count the Clinton debacle created by the GOP), hope seems possible.

    There's a larger political geography: the world. I am so fed up with the Socialism scare. Someone criticized the "socialist" government in Scandinavia, and I had to explain that those countries are governed under a constitutional monarchy, like England, and differentiate between non-Lenin/and Lenin-Marxist socialism.

    Gallup's World Map is a fascinating companion to Vig's wonderful visuals of America's political geography.

    I love Emily's comment that we must stay involved and not indulge in an "Obama is perfect" myth. Indeed, the real battle has just begun. There's a large mess to clean up.

    Vig, you mention Patrick Henry. I think, somewhere, Thomas Paine is cheering on the nation, also.

  14. What i do find encouraging is how many people participated in the election, regardless of whether they can make good on all the promises.

  15. In some respects we are two different countries: the Blue Republic and the Red Empire. The differences are extreme and I don't see a lot changing, but I grant there is hope given the results of the last election.