Red State Blue State

The elections are over and the vitrol is seeping back into the gutters where it belongs. I like to imagine that there is a majority out there that is tired of the oversimplification of complex problems and hopes for a future where Americans don’t shy away from being challenged on their entrenched beliefs. I think that both Democrats and Republicans are guilty of this, and that in referring to candidates as either Democrat or Republican, I am guilty of this. Clearly, words are failing me.

So I’m going to switch to an image. Images are powerful tools of expression, and what I want to express is that America is far more balanced in our views than people would have you believe. You do not live in a blue state or a red state; you probably live in a purple one. I am not on the other side of Texas or New York, nor am I against rural or urban America, but I am instead a member of all of it.

What follows is an excellent entry from Not Watching Television that I found during the Presidential election of 2004.


…[W]e’re shown this map, where America’s big, red, pulsing “heartland” appears to be pushing the poor, anemic blue state off to the extremities.


And, as if that wasn’t scary enough, we’re occasionally shown a map that distributes the blue and red to show how the vote broke down by county. According to the county map we Blues look like we’re wandering in a wilderness of red-dom, lost souls scattered on the right-wing frontier.


Dave Pollard, who’s How to Change the World blog I usually find so inspiring, actually sent a similar map out by email that had me scanning the web frantically for escape routes — or at least ex-patriot sites where I could offer up my daughters as mail-order brides.

Fortunately, before I started laying plans for how to smuggle my 84-year-old, walker-bound mom across some border, I stopped by Crooked Timber, where Henry posted a map and a link to some analysis that thankfully helped me get a grip — and a bit of that social equality perspective the Peterson Projection folks lectured CJ Craig about.

For one thing, according to Michael Gaster, Cosma Shalizi and Mark Newman of the University of Michigan, when you create a cartogram of the state electoral results, scaling the states according to population rather than geographic size, the map ends up looking like this instead of like the one above:


When viewed this way, through the lens of population distribution, America’s electoral portrait changes quite a bit.

But that’s not all. When the folks at U of M constructed a county-by-county picture of the vote, based on the percentage of votes cast for each candidate instead of just the winner-take-all results, they ended up with a cartogram like this:


Because this cartogram registers voting percentages by county, it reveals something important that those interests I mentioned above might not want to talk about. There are very few solidly red areas on this map, which means there are few solidly red areas in the country.

Those geographic electoral maps can come in handy for folks interested in claiming a mandate; or discouraging the opposition; or promoting a bandwagon effect. But just like the hemispheric distortions in Mercator Projection maps, what they depict is a far cry from reality.


That picture gives me hope and I look at it often.

2 Responses to Red State Blue State

  1. jarrad says:

    is it wrong that I look at that last picture and see infected red arteries and interstitial fibrosis? I need to get out more…

  2. whatnext says:

    And, looking at that last, more accurate, rendition of the American political lanscape, I fear we are all living within the mind of Jerry Garcia.

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