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Friday, November 16, 2012


MINDBLOWING 3-D Election 2012 Map by Robert Vanderbei, Princeton University

GUEST BLOG-- By Will Femia on The

Editor’s note: This is an excellent, excellent and much needed piece of blog journalism compiled by MSNBC. Originally titled “This is what democracy looks like.” It appeared on November 15, 2012. Go to the original posting so you can check out the maps and data embedded in the MSNBC blog:
The blog is reprinted here without the embedded links.

By Will Femia--If you are a blue voter, you are surely aware of the criticism of red state/blue state maps that the balance is improperly displayed because many of the red states in the middle of the country have a lot of land but not very many voters, so giving those states a large area on a map is misleading.

Mark Newman Map
My favorite solution to this problem has always been the Spider-Man-looking county-by-county cartogram scaled to population or electoral vote size, like the one above by Mark Newman of the Department of Physics and Center for the Study of Complex Systems at the University of Michigan. The above shows "a color scale that ranges from red for 70% Republican or more, to blue for 70% Democrat or more." Plus, it's Spider-Man-like. Meet me on the other side for not only the best map yet, but another one that's a real mindblower [next.]

This [week], io9 shared another solution to the problem: a Goldsberry map by John Nelson.

John Nelson Map
Nelson plotted a red or blue dot for every hundred votes for President Obama or Mitt Romney. You can see a bigger version here but I think it works best when you see the whole country and general patterns are visible (can you see the black belt?) along with a stark depiction of just how sparse the population is in those big red areas.

Unfortunately the details in the more heavily populated areas are lost in purple mud, so there's not much to see if you look really close.

Chris Howard Map
Enter Chris Howard, a fantasy and science fiction author and illustrator who took the county-by-county map by Mark Newman and overlaid population density data from other sources to make the clearest picture I've seen of Purple America.*

[Robert Vanderbei Map]
Now for the mindblower: Among the sources Howard cites in his explanation of his map is Princeton University's Robert J. Vanderbei (Note to self, go back and play with his faculty page later). Vanderbei's solution to showing the population differences without distorting the geography is to render the population data into a third dimension on a spinning 3D map. NOTE: The file is 55MB, so after you click, it takes a while to load. Here's the direct link:

*I've put a copy of the large version of the Chris Howard map on our media servers as well, to hopefully share some of the hosting burden, but please use the Chris Howard links as the credit is all his.

End of MSNBC blog.

Maps of the 2012 US presidential election results
By Mark Newman, University of Michigan.

Election results by state

Most of us are, by now, familiar with the maps the TV channels and web sites use to show the results of presidential elections. Here is a typical map of the results of the 2012 election:
The states are colored red or blue to indicate whether a majority of their voters voted for the Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, or the Democratic candidate, Barack Obama, respectively. Looking at this map it gives the impression that the Republican won the election handily, since there is rather more red on the map than there is blue. In fact, however, the reverse is true – it was the Democrats who won the election. 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.

As you can see, the states have been stretched and squashed, some of them substantially, to give them the appropriate sizes, though it's done in such a way as to preserve the general appearance of the map, so far as that's possible. On this map there is now clearly more blue than red.


--John Nelson Image source:
--Mark Newman Image source:
--Chris Howard Image source:

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