Election maps based on population

Computers & Mobile Craft & Design
Election maps based on population

Mark Newman’s, Department of Physics and Center for the Study of Complex Systems, University of Michigan election maps based on population via Waxy. I suspect in 4 years we’ll see these on all the networks doing “live morphs” from geographic view to population view on a big touchscreen with a hologram operating it…

Most of us are, by now, familiar with the maps the TV channels and web sites use to show the results of the presidential election:

The states are colored red or blue to indicate whether a majority of their voters voted for the Republican candidate, John McCain, or the Democratic candidate, Barack Obama, respectively. Looking at this map it gives the impression that the Republicans won the election handily, since there is rather more red on the map than there is blue. In fact, however, the reverse is true – the Democrats won by a substantial margin. The explanation for this apparent paradox, as pointed out by many people, is that the map fails to take account of the population distribution. It fails to allow for the fact that the population of the red states is on average significantly lower than that of the blue ones. The blue may be small in area, but they represent a large number of voters, which is what matters in an election.

We can correct for this by making use of a cartogram, a map in which the sizes of states are rescaled according to their population. 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. On such a map, for example, the state of Rhode Island, with its 1.1 million inhabitants, would appear about twice the size of Wyoming, which has half a million, even though Wyoming has 60 times the acreage of Rhode Island.

Here are the 2008 presidential election results on a population cartogram of this type…

10 thoughts on “Election maps based on population

  1. edward Moore says:

    The BBC had precisely such a system on Tuesday in their studio. Useful.

  2. Anonymous says:

    The scaling function is cool but the values are not quite right. The scaling should have been coupled to actual number of voters who participated in each state not the total population of each state.

  3. EEJ says:

    Why should the scaling be coupled to actual number of voters when the number of electoral college votes is based on total population of the state?

    Please remember that it isn’t the total number of individual votes that matter, but the number of electoral votes each state represents that decide who wins the presidential election.

  4. Paul Gibbs says:

    The BBC’s version looked like this:

    Click on “Proportional”.

  5. jredmond.myopenid.com says:

    The margins are extremely close in Missouri and North Carolina, and there are still absentee and provisional ballots being counted in both states, so it might be a little early to color them in just yet.

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