#Election2012 – what we can learn from maps

Ok – here are some interesting data points for people like me who care too much and are interested in what we can learn from the 2012 Election.


Oftentimes political parties will show maps to prove points about the state of the electorate or the general feeling of voters across the country. This map is an example of a bad visual representation of how America voted in 2012:

Red means a Republican won that county. Blue means the Democrat won the county. Yes, those are county lines on the map.

There are a few reasons this map doesn’t work, but the main one should be pretty simple: it doesn’t take population into account. Clearly the GOP owns the flyover states. But Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska don’t come close to matching the populations in New Jersey, Massachusetts and Maryland. Seriously, it’s not close. 8.5Million people versus 21.2Million people. That’s a huge difference. Also consider that the land mass in OK, KS, and NE is seven times larger than that of NJ, MA, and MD.

Here is a map showing population density: 

The East Coast of the United States is heavily populated. Much more so than the midwest. So, appropriately, those states are weighted more heavily with Electoral Votes in Presidential elections. It’s the way we drew up our laws, and that doesn’t look to be changing anytime soon.

So, how can we express how the election looked when we factor in population? Like so:

This is a cartogram that appropriately  the voter alignment along with population. Immediately, it becomes very clear that the country isn’t as “red” as that initial map would have you believe. Even still, this isn’t enough. If you want to take a few minutes and read about the logic behind this map and more, click here and see what the logic was behind the maps. You can also use this map and compare 2008 to 2012 and see small shifts in the electorate. This is the kind of thing that reasonable, rational people look at and think, “well, clearly we are a deeply divided nation.”

You can find much more by clicking here, here, and here (this one is weird because it inverted the colors, so take note of that). Next, I’ll work through some numbers and exit polls to help understand what trends we can expect.


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