Numbers Game: NC State Research Gives New Look to Election Statistics

Nov 05, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- As the nation watched the results of the 2008 election roll in, political devotees were faced with a host of graphs and charts reflecting polling data from around the country. Now political aficionados have a new way to dissect election statistics, thanks to a North Carolina State University computer scientist.

The visualizations created by Dr. Christopher Healey, associate professor of computer science, go beyond the graphics offered by news outlets like CNN and Fox News. His political graphics show many pieces of electoral information at once, allowing political junkies to get nuanced views of national and state races.

He plans to post new political maps on his Web site (www.csc.ncsu.edu/faculty/healey/) reflecting the data from the Nov. 4 election, when voters elected Sen. Barack Obama to be the next president.

Healey got the idea for the political visualizations after the midterm elections of 2006. He noticed that the media seemed to identify all states as being either "red states" or "blue states," and he wanted to devise a way to disprove this idea. The graphics he produced showed the political leanings of most states were far more complex than the way they were presented in the media.

"There is this idea that all states will vote either Democratic or Republican regardless of the election," Healey said. "The visualizations we came up with showed that voters are far more sophisticated than this, and take many different factors into account when deciding who to vote for."

Healey's maps divide each state or congressional district into four different sections, which use varying shades of blue and red to indicate the margin of victory in congressional, gubernatorial and presidential elections. For example, if North Carolina voters elected a Democratic governor in a landslide, but preferred a Republican candidate for president, the varying colors would reflect that.

"The maps used by news networks only reflect one piece of information, because there isn't a lot of opportunity to explain the maps," Healey said. "Viewers have to be able to understand the map in the time that it is on screen. Since people have more time to look at our maps, we can pack about five or six times the information into our maps."

The map also uses three-dimensional images to reflect the number of Electoral College votes the state receives, with the more populous states appearing "taller" on the map. Healey said this was necessary because most Electoral College maps show a large amount of red states with only a few blue states, as Republicans often win lots of states with smaller populations. This can be misleading if the map doesn't indicate the state's number of Electoral College votes, as Healey's map does.

Provided by NC State University

Explore further: A social-network illusion that makes things appear more popular than they are

Related Stories

How big data can be used to understand major events

Mar 04, 2015

With the most unpredictable UK general election looming in modern times, how can big data be used to understand how elections are covered by the media? New research has for the first time analysed over 130,000 ...

Recommended for you

EU open source software project receives green light

Jul 01, 2015

An open source software project involving the University of Southampton to extend the capacity of computational mathematics and interactive computing environments has received over seven million euros in EU funding.

Can computers be creative?

Jul 01, 2015

The EU-funded 'What-if Machine' (WHIM) project not only generates fictional storylines but also judges their potential usefulness and appeal. It represents a major advance in the field of computational creativity.

Algorithm detects nudity in images, offers demo page

Jul 01, 2015

An algorithm has been designed to tell if somebody in a color photo is naked. Isitnude.com launched earlier this month; its demo page invites you to try it out to test its power in nudity detection. You ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.