With the right maps, you can see how the electorate is changing, study shows

May 06, 2013 by Robert Brickhouse
Map: Percent of Votes by County and Intependent City.

(Phys.org) —Conventional U.S. political maps, with their all-red and all-blue states and districts, don't offer an accurate picture of fast-changing electoral trends, according to the current issue of the Virginia News Letter, published by the University of Virginia's Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service.

New and innovative map-making forms can shed light on major trends such as how suburban areas have become the main battleground between Republicans and Democrats, both nationally and in Virginia, according to the article, written by two state political experts.

Conventional electoral maps used by news media show states and counties by their geographic size, not their population, and thus give a misleading account of voting patterns, say the authors, Stephen P. Hanna and Stephen Farnsworth of Mary Washington University. An innovative map called a cartogram, which sizes regions according to population, may appear startling at first, but gives a more accurate political picture, they write.

In the article, "Visualizing Virginia's Changing Electorate," the authors present a variety of display methods, including cartograms, trend mapping, precinct maps and maps at multiple scales to visualize changes in the Virginia between 2000 and 2012. The conventional, geography-based maps showing districts won by Republicans or Democrats don't begin to capture the real , especially in the fast-evolving suburbs, they write.

Rapidly suburbanizing counties in Virginia and elsewhere are the new political battlegrounds, Hanna and Farnsworth write. Precinct-level maps in these counties reveal the real geography of voting preferences and make it easier to match demographic and with electoral results.

"In Virginia, as elsewhere, suburban areas are neither monolithic nor static," the authors write. "Over time their have increased and their residents have became more diverse in terms of race, income and age. As a result, Virginia Republicans now risk being swamped in statewide elections by the latest wave of suburban migration."

Compared to earlier waves of suburban settlement, the newer arrivals tend to be younger, more culturally diverse, and less conservative on social issues, Hanna and Farnsworth say. "Many cannot afford – or at least tend not to want to live in – large single-family houses. Instead they favor townhouses closer to major highways and mass transit. These new residents in the suburbs more distant from the urban centers, in short, are the sorts of voters who turned once-Republican counties like Henrico, Albemarle and Fairfax away from the GOP in recent presidential election cycles."

At the national level, political analysts increasingly note the deepening divide between rural and white voters (the Republican Party's base), on the one hand, and urban and non-white voters (the Democratic base) on the other. This divide makes the ever-shifting suburbs the main battleground between the two parties, the authors write. And the rapid changes demand different forms to visualize them.

On a cartogram, for example, the area of each state is scaled by its population, rather than its physical area. Massachusetts, with over 6 million people, is more than 10 times the size on a cartogram than Wyoming, with fewer than 600,000 residents. The more populous blue states of New York, California and New Jersey visually balance the now smaller plains and mountain states, accurately showing a much closer electoral outcome.

Conventional maps of "red versus blue" also hide the millions who voted for the candidate who lost in each state, Hanna and Farnsworth point out.

"A more creative approach to electoral -making may be unsettling, but this challenges readers and viewers to rethink their assumptions about voting patterns."

Explore further: Newlyweds, be careful what you wish for

More information: www.coopercenter.org/publications/VANsltr0513

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Unique map shows UK general election results in new light

May 11, 2010

A unique map of the UK, showing alternative images of the General Election results, has been created by researchers at the University of Sheffield. The image, which is based on population data, shows how many ...

Recommended for you

Newlyweds, be careful what you wish for

2 hours ago

A statistical analysis of the gift "fulfillments" at several hundred online wedding gift registries suggests that wedding guests are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to buying an appropriate gift for the ...

Can new understanding avert tragedy?

5 hours ago

As a boy growing up in Syracuse, NY, Sol Hsiang ran an experiment for a school project testing whether plants grow better sprinkled with water vs orange juice. Today, 20 years later, he applies complex statistical ...

Creative activities outside work can improve job performance

17 hours ago

Employees who pursue creative activities outside of work may find that these activities boost their performance on the job, according to a new study by San Francisco State University organizational psychologist Kevin Eschleman ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Newlyweds, be careful what you wish for

A statistical analysis of the gift "fulfillments" at several hundred online wedding gift registries suggests that wedding guests are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to buying an appropriate gift for the ...

Can new understanding avert tragedy?

As a boy growing up in Syracuse, NY, Sol Hsiang ran an experiment for a school project testing whether plants grow better sprinkled with water vs orange juice. Today, 20 years later, he applies complex statistical ...

Crowd-sourcing Britain's Bronze Age

A new joint project by the British Museum and the UCL Institute of Archaeology is seeking online contributions from members of the public to enhance a major British Bronze Age archive and artefact collection.

Roman dig 'transforms understanding' of ancient port

(Phys.org) —Researchers from the universities of Cambridge and Southampton have discovered a new section of the boundary wall of the ancient Roman port of Ostia, proving the city was much larger than previously ...

Tiny power plants hold promise for nuclear energy

Small underground nuclear power plants that could be cheaper to build than their behemoth counterparts may herald the future for an energy industry under intense scrutiny since the Fukushima disaster, the ...

Unraveling the 'black ribbon' around lung cancer

It's not uncommon these days to find a colored ribbon representing a disease. A pink ribbon is well known to signify breast cancer. But what color ribbon does one think of with lung cancer?